Thursday, December 30, 2010

Citrus Greening Hope

One of the nice things about the holidays is, you get to take time off from work, catch up on a few things and relax. Okay, strike the last part, who really gets to relax during the holidays?
I have been able to catch up on a few things though, namely a little bit of my reading. The stack of magazines and books I currently have would be a speed readers nightmare.
A couple of articles really grabbed my attention and they both pertained to Citrus Greening disease.
I was talking to somebody today from here in Charleston County (we are under quarantine for Greening) and she did not have any idea about it. I am doing a Citrus lecture for her garden club on the 11th, I think I am going to scare some of these folks.
Just to give some of you that may not know what Citrus Greening is, here is a Readers Digest version.
Huanglongbing (pronounced Hung-Long-Bing) or Yellow Dragon Disease is one of the most serious Citrus diseases. It is a bacterial disease that attacks the vascular system. Once infected, the tree will produce inedible bitter fruit, the fruit will not be able to ripen and the tree will ultimately die in a few years. There is currently no cure for the disease.
It is spread by a tiny insect known as the Asian Citrus Psyllid.
This is their feeding posture. 45 degrees to the stem. The adults are 3 to 4 mm (or 0.15748031496 inches) long with a mottled brown body. They are really very small. It only takes an infected Psyllid about 15 minutes to infect a tree.
It can also be transmitted by grafting.
The diseased leaves look like this.
This disease can be tricky to detect because it mimics many nutritional deficiencies. On the above picture, notice the non-mirrored yellowing. If this was nutritional the two sides of the leaves would be identical.
Like I said, this is an EXTREMELY short version of what Greening disease is. To find out if you are under quarantine here in the United States go to this link HERE It will tell you all you need to know.
Okay, that was your Citrus Greening mini lecture. I mentioned the two articles that grabbed my attention. The first one dealt with feeding the crap out of Greening infected trees to rejuvenate them. I guess the old cliche "Starve a cold and feed a fever" would be a good analogy here. Maury Boyd, a Citrus producer near Immokalee, Florida has successfully been applying a cocktail of nutrients to his ravaged trees. I won't go into the long list of what he is applying, but it is done three times a year just after each new flush of growth.
There is still many tests being performed on this treatment. The article goes on to say that Mr. Boyd is pleased with the overall health of his grove, he would have plowed them under before trying this method, and the fruit yields have met or exceeded industry average. Fruit quality has also improved.
I am not telling you to go out and start pouring all kinds of fertilizers on your trees, like I said, there is still MUCH research to do here.
The other article I mentioned will undoubtedly cause controversy. The title is "Genetic Engineering Tackles Citrus Greening". There was a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo, but I got the gist of it. Basically, to save the 9.3 billion dollar annual economic benefit to Florida, there may have to be some playing around with the genes of Citrus. The article also states that groups that are opposed to genetically modified foods of any kind may try to dissuade the public from turning to genetically engineered Orange Juice. It's not like they are trying to create a Frankenstein Orange, they have discovered that there are some genes in Spinach that may provide some resistance. They don't have a complete handle on all this yet, but it is in research. I, for one, have no problem with Genetically Modified Food or GMO's, though I am not sure if my Orange Juice had the aftertaste of Spinach, it would be all that great! Ha-Ha
This has been a VERY brief overview of what these articles said, both were 3+ pages long. I just wanted to show you that there is research going on to fix this horrible disease to Citrus. I remember just a couple of years ago there was a notion going around Florida that if something wasn't done soon the whole Citrus industry could be wiped out in 5-10 years! A very sobering thought.
One last thing I would like to mention. I know they have a huge stake in the Orange Juice industry, but if their OJ sales stopped they would not go bankrupt. I would like to THANK Coca-Cola for their 1.5 million dollar donation to research for finding a cure for HLB (Huanglongbing). Hopefully someday they will find one!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Cold Damage Identification and What to DO about it

The past month or so, I have made numerous blog postings about bringing in your plants and protecting them from the Winter weather. If you missed either of these postings, you can read it HERE and HERE .
Today I am going to talk to the people that, for one reason or another, didn't bring their plants in or try to protect them. They may have missed the weather report, forgot about their plants, or didn't want to take the time to do it and now their significant other is upset because the plant looks dead. There may be hope!
You will need to ask and answer a couple of questions: How cold was the temperature? How long was the plant exposed? What was the health of the plant before the damage?
First, let's take a quick look at what cold weather is and how it can affect plants. I know, duh, it's cold, they freeze! Well, just follow me for a minute.
The sun warms the soil surface during the day; the heat is then radiated into the cool atmosphere during the night. The coldest temperatures occur about daybreak.
Clouds at night can absorb and reflect heat back to the earth.
Calm, clear nights pose the greatest danger of frost since there is no wind to mix the ascending warm air with the descending cold air, and no clouds to radiate heat back to the soil.
Cold air settles downward, flowing like water,to the lowest point. Hot air rises.
The effects of temperature vary with plant species, stage of growth, age, general health and water content. Young, actively growing, flowering, and/or dehydrated plants tend to be most vulnerable.
Freezing temperatures damage plants by rupturing plant cells as ice crystals form and rapid changes in temperatures occur. Evergreen plants can suffer damage from blowing Winter winds and dry out when water is unavailable from ground that is frozen. Chilling injury can occur to many tropical plants although temperatures do not drop below 32 degrees.
The signs of cold damage can be confusing, since some damage may not be evident until months later. Leaves and tender shoots subjected to freezing temperatures or chilling damage appear water soaked and wilted. These tissues will usually turn black within a few hours or days. The tips of narrow-leaved evergreens, such as junipers, may turn uniformly brown. Broad-leaved evergreens, such as hollies, often have leaf burn along their edges. Less flowering is common during the following season.
One of the main things to remember is Do NOT prune frost-damaged, woody growth until the plant begins growing in the Spring. Pruning might stimulate new growth which would be vulnerable to late frosts. The frost damaged leaves and stems will continue to help trap warm air within the canopy. This is especially true in very large leaf type plants, such as Bananas. In addition, the damage is often not nearly as bad as it initially looked, new growth may come out of tissue that you thought was dead. Once the new growth starts in the Spring, you can prune out the dead wood.
A large, deep, crack running up and down the trunk of a tree or large shrub is known as a frost crack. The crack is usually on the South or Southwest side of the trunk, but can occur on any side. Young trees or older trees with smooth bark are the most susceptible.
Frost cracks occur when the sun warms the trunk in the Winter, causing tissues to rapidly expand or when clouds or buildings block the sun. At sunset the temperature of the trunk drops quickly to that of the surrounding air, and the trunk contracts. The outer part of the trunk cools and contracts faster than the inner tissues. This difference in contraction rates can cause the outer trunk to crack. You can usually eliminate this problem by wrapping the trunks with burlap or some other type of protection, not plastic, it needs to breathe. Start at the ground and work your way up to the first branch. Prevention is important, once the crack occurs, there is not much that can be done. Such frost cracks often close and callus over during the Summer, only to reopen in following Winters. This callusing and recracking may lead to the formation of large "frost ribs" on the side of affected trees. Something else to keep in mind, insects like to find places to hide and a large split open trunk is basically a "We'll keep the light on for you" sign. You could be looking at a major infestation. Frost cracks in trees are also ideal sites for the entrance of wood decaying organisms.
Desiccation, or drying out, is a particular problem on evergreen plants. This occurs when water is leaving the plant faster than it is being taken into the plant. During the Winter months desiccation can occur if the ground is frozen beyond the depth of the root system. If the Fall has been dry, there may not be enough ground moisture available for the plant. Water loss is greatest during windy, sunny conditions. This type of injury appears as discolored or burned evergreen needles or leaves.
After a killing cold some plants may be frozen back to the ground but lower buds and roots often survive. It can take these plants months to begin growth. Give them at least the Spring months to show signs of growth. I had a Clethera that did not regrow until Summer. I had just about given up on it but it showed me how persistent plants can be.
Okay, you have this plant that has lost all its leaves, looks naked and you are figuring it is a goner. Take a look at the bark or stem, is it black, shriveled or separated from the trunk? It’s most likely beyond help if it is. Don’t look just at the top but down at the base.
Next start high and scrape a small section of the bark. If you find brown at all keep moving lower until you find green, believe me you’ll know when you find it.
When you find an area of green, cut off everything above it, on that stem or branch. When you get done going over this you may have a plant that stands a chance of coming back. This really needs to wait until Spring though.
Remember, not only was the foliage, branches and stems exposed to the cold, so were the roots. No matter how hard you try the plant may not survive. The root damage may be so severe that you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.
As much as you may love your plant, you must be realistic, It may be too far gone!
I get teased all the time about my infatuation with what the weather is doing, what it is going to do and what it has done in the past. The best remedy is to keep your eyes on the weather, bring your plants in before the cold hits, and to grow things that are suited for your climate zone.
I hope everybody has a Very Merry Christmas!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Holy Hothouse Plantman

As any of you that have been following my blog, or have at least read some of the past postings, know, I have a greenhouse. I would be lost and in a constant state of depression without it. Where else can I go when the wind is whipping, the temperature is right around freezing, and sit around a bunch of tropical plants at 65 degrees and not leave my zip code?
I am not telling you all this to brag, but to maybe give you some ideas on what to ask for, for Christmas.
There are ALL kinds of greenhouse kits online, for all kinds of budgets. You can ask for one of those, OR, you can ask for a giftcard to a home improvement store to buy the needed supplies. I built my own from the ground up. Trust me it is not the prettiest thing in the world, actually it borders on grotesque looking, but it is functional. I promise it is not that difficult. I am nothing like my brother who is a cross between Bob Villa and McGyver, he can build anything out of anything and it be strong enough to hold a tank. Nope, I am lucky I know which end of a hammer to use.
Basically, you are building a big box with a roof and a door. As long as it is enclosed, you have a greenhouse. I am not going to get into the specifics here on how to build one, like I said there are kits online and plenty of floor plans out there. Many books with designs have also been written.
I am going to instead tell you what you need to do with that greenhouse after you unwrap it Christmas morning.
You have all heard the motto of a good business, The three things you need to succeed is location, location, location. The same holds true here. The greenhouse should be located where it gets maximum sunlight. The first choice of location is the South or the Southeast side of a building or shade tree. Sunlight all day is the best, but morning sunlight on the East side is the next best thing. I use my greenhouse primarily in the Winter, but it can be used all year round if placed in the correct spot. Deciduous trees,(trees that lose their leaves) such as Maple, can effectively shade the greenhouse from the intense late afternoon Summer sun. Deciduous trees also allow maximum exposure to the Winter sun because they do shed their leaves in the Fall. You do not want to use an evergreen tree, such as a Pine, because they will shield the greenhouse from the less intense Winter sun. Trust me, you want to capture as much of the sun at this time of year as you can. Remember that the sun is lower in the sky this time of year.
Good drainage is another requirement for the site. Yes, most of your plants will probably be on shelves, but some will not. Plus, you will not be on a shelf. If going out to the greenhouse after a heavy rain is a miserable experience, standing in the mud and muck, you are just setting yourself and your plants up for disaster.
One of the most asked questions I get when somebody is asking about my greenhouse is, "Do you heat it in the Winter"? Yes. They then proceed to ask how, how much heat is enough, what is a good source, etc, etc. These questions will depend on many things.
First, what kind of plants are you wanting to grow? You need to know the minimum temperature your "crop" can handle. The majority of things in my greenhouse can handle down into the mid 30's pretty much with no trouble. I am testing the limit this year with Theobroma cacao (chocolate), they don't like it below 40, but we will wait and see.
The next question would be: What is the greenhouse made of? My first year I had mine made out of 8 mil plastic. For those of you that are not sure what this is, think very heavy painters drop cloth, almost tarp like. It kept the heat in okay, nothing to write home about, but had to be replaced within two years. Plexiglass works very well, as does corrugated plastic and of course, glass.
Here, size does matter! If your greenhouse is 6 feet by 6 feet, you will not need as big a heater as you would if you had a greenhouse the size of a tractor trailer. Mine is 8 feet by 16 feet and I use a mid sized electric heater. Now remember, mine is not hermetically sealed, but in 18 degree weather in the middle of the night, I can maintain 33 degrees, cold, but not life threatening to the majority of plants.
Installing fans in your greenhouse is a good investment. Any kind will work, ceiling, box, oscillating, whatever you can afford and will fit. During the Winter when the greenhouse is heated, you need to maintain air circulation so that the temperatures remain uniform throughout. Without air-mixing fans, the warm air rises to the top and cool air settles around the lower part, where the plants are.
Watering can be very time consuming, especially if you have lots of plants. I almost have it down to a science. I drag the garden hose in there about once a week and just hose everything down. You need to be careful of any electrical cords, appliances(fans, heaters) or outlets you may have. As for the plants that don't need as much water as others, I put them where the taller, bigger plants block them. Higher shelves, corners, under over hanging shelves all work as water blockers. I have even stacked smaller plants on the soil of larger plants, the smaller ones need more and only after they have had enough, give some to the bigger ones.
A couple of other minor things to think about would be, Do I need additional lighting? Again, this will depend on the crop. If you are trying to grow Tomatoes, I would add more light. If you are just trying to keep something alive that may have lost it leaves or needs to go dormant, probably not.
Should I have a potting area? Only if you plan on spending lots of time and have lots of room in there. Again, mine is basically Winter storage for my plants. I do use some of the shelving in the Summer to repot or seed when I want to be out of the sun.
In the past, greenhouses were a luxury, today there are nearly 3 million hobby greenhouses in the U.S. and the number is expected to grow.
I hope this has sparked an interest in starting a greenhouse. Christmas is almost here and if you want to get a few hints out....cut out some pictures of greenhouses and leave them lying around. Send e-mails with greenhouse design websites to your significant other. If all else fails, send a letter to Santa! Whatever you do, get yourself a will be glad you did!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Plant Cold Protection

I posted last week about bringing your houseplants in for the Winter. Hopefully you all did. What about the plants that are just way to big to move or are in the ground? Again, I am lucky in the aspect that I have a greenhouse and a fairly decent, healthy back, so I can move my 30 gallon pots. What if you don't have either of the above and want to protect that plant that is marginal in your neck of the woods?
Lets see if I can give you a few ideas.
Although I live in the Southern part of the United States, Winter sometimes brings cold temperatures that can cause severe damage to many of our landscape plants. Early frosts in the Fall can cause damage on plants that are normally adapted to our area. Plants need adequate time to harden off (adjust to outdoor conditions) before freezing temperatures occur. A plant’s ability to withstand cold temperatures will depend on the plant species, but also on how low and how fast temperatures decrease. When temperatures gradually decrease, a plant can acclimate, or adjust itself, to withstand colder temperatures better. Sudden decreases in temperature cause more damage in Fall or early Winter than similar low temperatures well into Winter. New growth that has been stimulated by late Summer pruning or fertilization is very susceptible. Hopefully you weren't outside in the past month or two feeding your plants or giving them a haircut. If you weren't, then you are already ahead of the game.
Ideally, The best way to prevent cold injury to plants is to choose ones that tolerate the cold temperatures in your area. We all know though, that pushing the envelope is sometimes more exciting and offers a wider range of plants.
So, in addition to right plant selection, you want to put the plant in the right place. During the Winter, the coldest spots are often found on the North and Northwest part of the property and in low areas where cold air settles. The warmest spots are usually on the Southern part of the property. Placing plants under non-leaf dropping trees will add some protection, as will using a fence, building, wall or temporary shelter made of plastic. Placing plants near a sidewalk or street can even add a few degrees of protection. These things absorb the heat and give it back off at night. For container grown plants, their roots are more exposed because they are above ground. Push together container plants that are left outside and mulch or cover them to decrease heat loss from the sides of the containers. Wrap the base of the containers in plastic, burlap, or blankets to reduce heat loss. Remember also, that plants that grow close to the ground are usually protected by heat radiating from the soil. Plants that are tall and more open do not receive this radiating heat and are not protected from the cold.
Covering your plants helps protect them from frost as well as from extremely cold temperatures. Covers that reach the ground and do not come in contact with foliage form a layer of insulation from the cold temperature. To prevent foliage breakage, avoid having the covers (sheets, blankets, painters drop cloth, etc) touch the foliage. This can be accomplished by using tomato cages for smaller plants and lumber teepees for larger ones. Don't forget to weigh down the sides so a gust of wind will not blow it off. When extremely cold temperatures are predicted, place a light bulb (60 watts or higher) or other heat source (spotlight) under the cover to provide heat. You can also use some of the old Christmas lights that we all had as children, you know, the ones that would melt your toy if it came in contact with? Check the lights before relying on them, the newer ones do not produce any heat. Be very careful when using a bulb or other heat source, which can be a potential fire hazard. Do not let the bulb or heat source come in contact with the plant (Christmas lights being a kind of exception) or the cover. Remove the cover and provide ventilation during the day, the sun can very easily burn the plant or at the very least, the extra warmth could possibly cause the plant to break dormancy. This precaution is critical when using plastic covers.
Watering plants before a freeze can help protect them from cold injury. Soil that is well watered absorbs more heat and gives it back to the plants at night. I don't have this problem here, but, Cold weather can also cause the ground to freeze. When this occurs, water is unavailable to roots; plants continue to transpire (lose water from their leaves) and dry out. Watering the soil to thaw the ground makes water available to roots.
Mulch will act as an insulator, so it too can protect plants, especially from wide swings in temperature. Sometimes the cold temperature is not what damages the plant, it's the freeze/thaw cycle affecting the soil and causing it to "heave" the plant. The roots basically get thrown out of the soil and break contact with it. Something to keep in mind about mulch, this "insulation" works both ways. It can prevent the soil from drastic swings,and getting too cold, but it can also prevent it from warming up when the time comes. You may wish to rake it back away from the plants as it starts to warm up in Spring.
Now occasionally, Mother Nature actually provides the best blanket of protection in the form of a light snow. Up to two or three inches of snow not only insulates the ground around your plants, but it also provides a blanket of protection over the leaves. If you have a situation in your area (I don't, usually) that this could happen, you need to think way in advance.
This is a picture of some Wax Myrtles, before the wet, heavy snow, hit us in February of this year. They were about 10 feet tall prior. If the homeowner knew this was coming, if ANY of us had known this was coming, they would have been pruned back in the middle of the Summer. This event caused considerable damage. Of the limbs that broke, some were as big as six inches in diameter. This picture was taken too late to do anything about it. What should have been done, other than the preemptive pruning? Someone should have gone out there and lightly shaken as much of the snow off as they could. The plants are fine and rebounded, but the shape of them is not one of beauty, Mother Nature is definitely not a landscape designer.  
To sum this all up, healthy plants are more resistant to cold injury than plants that are weakened by disease, by insect damage, or by improper care. Plants that are being grown in their proper growing zone will do better than one that is 3 zones off. With an ounce of prevention, and a little work, you too will produce a plant that can wear a tag that states "I survived the Winter of 2010/2011".
Happy Growing!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Please Take Me In

In most parts of the country, Fall is almost over and old man Winter has started taking his icy grip. Here in Charleston, we have had some frost on the vehicles, but have not had that real killer frost yet. So around here, there is still time to bring in your houseplants. You know, that Spider Plant that has been hanging on the back porch all Summer. The Snake Plant that is sitting in the corner over there by your BBQ grill. There are a few things you probably should do before you bring them back into the comfort of your home, unless you like creepy, crawly visitors.
To start off with, almost all houseplants are considered Tropical or at least Sub-Tropical, which means areas adjacent to Tropical areas.....Think of it as the tropical suburbs.
Ideally, the plants will want to be moved when the inside and outside temperatures are about the same. That means 70's during the day and mid 60's or so at night. I don't know about you, but that seems like a very short window of opportunity to me. I usually wait until the night time temperatures are forecast to be in the upper 30's. Now to be fair, I have a greenhouse and it is easier to move them in there on the spur of the moment than it would be to bring them into the house. So, you can decide for yourself when would be a good time to get started.
First off, it is important to get rid of pests on the plant or in the soil. This is especially important for those plants that have been sitting on the ground. You first want to look all around the leaves, on top, underneath, and in the leaf crevices. Pay special attention to where the leaf or stem is attached to the trunk. Then, if at all possible, take them out of their pots to see if anything has crawled in through the drainage holes. You would be amazed at what you might find down there. I am not trying to scare you, but, I did see a plant taken out of a three gallon pot to be planted and in the bottom was a baby snake. Probably would have been a bad thing if he/she made it indoors.
If there are any insects on the leaves, you can do one of a couple of things. Spray the plant with the hose and knock the little guys off, being careful not to remove too much of the soil or knocking the leaves off themselves. The other possibility is to use an insecticidal soap, it is safe for pets and humans. Some plants tend to hold the soap solution on their leaf surfaces. This may cause burning. Before using any insecticide, check the label to see if the plant is listed. If not, test a small area on your plant for sensitivity. It may take anywhere from seven to ten days for symptoms to appear.
Okay, you have the critters taken care of. You noticed when you took the pot out of its container, it was a tad rootbound. Again, there are a couple of options here. First, you could just leave it until Spring. The plant is not going to grow much during the Winter months indoors. The problem with this is, the plant, if it is too terribly rootbound, will not be able to take up any water. The roots will basically repel it and there is not enough soil to absorb any water for later use. There is also the possibility that it will grow some during the Winter and just make matters worse. So, as long as it is already out of the pot, why not repot now?
You will want to use a good potting mix. What is a good potting mix? Well, it will have these basic elements: Dense enough to support the plant, Good nutrient-holding capacity, Allows water and air to pass through readily, yet retains adequate moisture, Free of insects, diseases and weed seeds. I will start with the last item because I seem to get the question "Why can't I just use dirt from my yard?"
Garden soils contain too many bacteria and are generally not recommended for plants grown in containers. Unlike artificial mixes, which can be used right from the bag, native soil mixes must first be sterilized to kill disease organisms, insects and weed seeds. An artificial mix which includes commercially prepared mixes are "soilless" or "artificial," which means they contain no soil. Most contain a combination of organic matter, such as peat moss or ground pine bark, and an inorganic material, such as washed sand, perlite or vermiculite. Yes, you can make your own artificial potting mix, no you can not use sand from the will contain too much salt. Any decent combination of the above ingredients will make a good potting mix, the best one out there is in your imagination. Experiment and find one that works for you. Just remember the above basic elements that I mentioned which are required and you will be fine. I should also mention that many commercial potting mixes contain a slow release fertilizer. Most of the time during the Winter, the plants go into a resting or dormant phase and will not need the food. You do not have to go out of your way to find one with a certain amount of food in it. The rules change come Spring, so with it in there you will have somewhat of a head start to an early feeding should you forget.
Okay,I am going to assume you have the plant out of its pot. Gently disturb the root system so that roots are not in a tight rootball or as we like to say "Tickle the roots a little". If the roots are too tight to loosen, slice through the rootball slightly with a knife to loosen them. The next item I am going to mention has been discussed to great lengths by many gardeners. I have actually been in some of these "discussions". The general rule of thumb is: Select a pot that is 1 or 2 inches larger in diameter than the current pot. For a houseplant this is fine, because many times there is not room for anything much larger. I am under the belief that what ever size pot you can manage and will fit in the space is fine. Of course, this can also be taken with a grain of salt. I am not expecting to put a four inch plant into a 30 gallon container, there are some things that common sense should be applied to. I AM suggesting that if you take a plant out of a six inch pot and you have room for a ten inch pot, go for it! You will not, or should not, have to repot anytime soon.
You can put some wire mesh or broken shards of clay pot in the bottom to help retard soil from coming out of the drainage holes. You will want to plant the plant in the pot at the same level or even slightly higher than the original pot. This will help prevent foot rot.
The main cause of death of potted indoor plants is over-watering. Roots need both water and oxygen, and when surrounded by water, they cannot take up any oxygen. These roots will rot and eventually the whole plant may die. The symptoms of over watering and under watering are very similar. The plant will appear wilted.
When I am doing my Citrus lectures, I get asked a question that is relevant to this topic: "How often should I water my plant?" While there are a couple of minor differences, basically the answer will be the same...When it needs it! Okay, after the laughter dies down, I usually go into the variables that apply to this question.
What kind of plant is it? A cactus is not going to need as much as a philodendron.
What kind of soil are you using? One with lots of sand will need more than one that has lots of peat in it.
What kind of pot is it in? A clay pot will dry out much faster than a plastic pot.
How much sun is it getting/how close to a heat vent is it? This one is kind of self explanatory.
The best rule of thumb is, stick your finger in the soil. If it is dry to the first knuckle, water.....unless it is a Cactus. Then all bets are off and unless you only water it every six months or so, I doubt you will be able to under water any kind of Cactus. You will eventually get the feel for when your plants need a drink. Another good way to tell is by the weight of the pot, if it is very light, it probably needs a drink. I mentioned earlier that over and under watering have the same symptoms. If you have been watering every other day and it is wilted, stop! If you haven't watered in three weeks and it is wilted, water! See, simple as that. Remember to have some kind of dish under the plant to catch runoff and empty it when it is done draning to prevent root rot.
The amount of light inside can be a difficult hurdle to cross. If you have the time, over a period of about a week, gradually reduce light levels by moving plants from sun to light shade to heavy shade, and finally indoors. Once indoors, the plant may develop leaf yellowing or drop as it adjusts to lower light. Most of the time this is not a major problem, unless you just HATE leaf litter on your new carpet. Here again, I will give you a couple of options. You can put the plant in a different window. The ideal side is a southern exposure, followed by East then West. North just absolutely is the worst, unless of course you are reading this in Australia, then reverse the whole North/South thing. Another option is grow lights. They are relatively inexpensive and can be placed on a timer. Do some research on how much light the particular plant you are growing requires and set the timer for that amount. There are many plants that require less Winter light than they do in the Summer for their dormant stage, again, research will tell you if your plant falls under this category.
Most people prefer a tidy house and think their plants should be also. Indoor plants may collect dust or greasy films that dull their appearance, making them less attractive. Clean leaves are also favorable for healthy growth. There are products on the market to clean and shine leaves, they are generally not recommended because the waxy coating residue may interfere with air exchange. Basically, they prohibit your plant from breathing. Never, NEVER use these products on plants that have hairy leaves, such as African Violets, you are really asking for problems here. The best way to clean leaves that are not hairy is to dampen a soft cloth with water and wipe the lower and upper surfaces of each leaf. An alternative is to place the entire plant in the shower to rinse it off. Plants with hairy leaves should not be dusted with a wet cloth but with a soft cosmetic brush. I remember either my mother or grandmother using mayonnaise to clean the plants leaves, I don't recommend this either because it too can clog the plants breathing.
I didn't mention types of containers because they are a personal choice. Many types of containers can be used for growing plants. Most pots with bottom drainage holes are made of plastic, ceramic or clay. Decorative containers without drainage holes can be made of clay, ceramic, plastic, wood, copper, brass and various other materials and should only be used as the outside vessel of a pot in a pot system. This way you can drain the water out and not remove the soil.
Well, I hope that helps you in bringing your beloved plant friends indoors. I read an interesting saying about indoor plants once, it goes something like this: They (plants) help us stay in touch with nature and, in a sense, "bring the outside indoors." I like that, Spring is way too far away right now.
Happy Growing!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How Sweet, or is it?

If you have ever been to the Lowcountry of South Carolina around this time of year, you will recognize what I am about to describe.
You are driving down the interstate or pretty much anywhere around the area and up ahead you see a purple haze in the median. Kind of looks like a fog or sometimes even smoke. You wonder if there is a problem. Should I slow down? Will it spread across the road?
As you get closer you begin to realize it is nothing of the sort.
It is just some Muhlenbergia capillaris, also known as Sweetgrass and Gulf Muhly Grass. Muhlenbergia, one of the largest genera in this family, is named in honor of Giotthilf  H.E. Muhlengerg (1753-1815), a minister, as well a a pioneer American botanist of German extraction whose family brought the Lutheran religion to Pennsylvania in the early part of the 18th century.
Sweet Grass is a showy clump forming type of grass that can get to 3 feet tall and just as wide. It does not produce runners, as it originates from the base clump.
That purplish or sometimes pink haze that you see is the flower or inflorescence. That flower can be 18 inches long and as much as 10 inches wide. It stands well above the wiry leaves. Appearing in late Summer, it will persist for 6-8 weeks.
Muhlenbergia capillaris is a variety of Muhlenbergia filipes, which is used in the making of Sweet Grass Baskets. Both of these grasses are native to South Carolina and they grow on the barrier islands along the coast, such as, Kiawah, Seabrook, Fripp, and Hilton Head. All together there are some 60 species of Mulenbergia.
Their growing range extends from Zone 5 all the way down to Zone 10. Full sun to light shade is the light requirement. This is an excellent plant for just about any type of soil you might have, it tolerates conditions from moist to dry, acidic to alkaline, and sandy to clay. It even tolerates salt spray. Being that it is tolerant of such poor conditions, it makes a good groundcover for those hard to fill areas. If you have a friend that is growing it or if you have had it a long time and want to have more in another part of the yard, the clumps can be dug up and hacked apart easily. This is best done in the Fall or early Spring. There is little to no problem with pests or diseases.
I am not a big fan of grasses, but I can tolerate Sweet Grass. It does have a pretty showing in the Fall, especially if you can find the rare white form (Muhlenbergia capillaris 'White Cloud') and mix the two together.
Happy Growing!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Christmas, Thanksgiving, or Easter?

The holidays are fast approaching, as if you needed me to remind you of that!!
With the holidays come the ever present "Holiday Cactus". This is one of those questions that have been plaguing mankind for years, Do I have a Thanksgiving Cactus or an Easter Cactus or is the darn thing a Christmas Cactus?
Let's see if we can answer this.
The main difference between the Christmas, the Thanksgiving, and the Easter Cactus is the time of bloom. As their common names suggest, a Thanksgiving cactus can bloom in late Fall, one month before the Christmas cactus. The Easter cactus starts producing flower buds in February.
Now, what if your Cacti can't read a calendar? I know, they should have learned that at an early age. But if they never did learn, they are probably relying on the Day/Night length and Temperatures. Let's say that you are keeping them as houseplants and they can't see outside through the drapes?
There is another way to tell the different Cacti apart.
photo courtesy of Paul J. Brunelle
The true Christmas Cactus does not have the points on the sides, but are still bumpy. The "Christmas Cactus" is Schlumbergera x buckleyi, a hybrid produced in the late 1840s by William Buckley at the Rollisson Nurseries in England.

The actual Thanksgiving Cactus, the plants most often sold as "Christmas Cacti" (by which name they sell best) are Schlumbergera truncata cultivars. These are clones selected for their colors, growth habit and given cultivar names. They bloom about a full month or more before the true Christmas cactus, given the same treatment, and so are more easily made to bloom at the best time for Christmas sales. The flowers might not last until Christmas though. They are also known by many popular names such as "Link Cactus", and "Grandmother's Cactus". Like I mentioned, these clones have been selected and bred for their many colors. They can come in Lavender, White, Fuschia, Red, Orange, and all shades in between.

photo courtesy of Paul J. Brunelle
As you can see, there are a little bit more defined "points" on the sides.

The Easter Cactus is Rhipsalidopsis gaertneri . In some respects it is very similar to the Schlumbergera. However, it blooms in April (about Easter) and its flower is very different. It is not nearly as popular as the Thanksgiving or Christmas Cactus because it is a little bit more difficult to grow well, and it has the nasty habit of shedding its phylloclades (stem segments) at the slightest drought, or whenever over watered. It may also refuse to bloom for no apparent reason.

photo courtesy of Paul J. Brunelle
As you can see, the edges are almost smooth and the flowers are very different.

Flower bud initiation in Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti start in response to cool temperatures and shortened day length so they should be left outdoors, away from artificial light until night temperatures dip into the 40s. At this time, they do best at temperatures between 50 and 65 degrees.
The Easter Cactus requires a dry period. From October to November, very little water is required for flower bud initiation. Easter cactus can be placed in the same cool area as the Thanksgiving and Christmas Cactus. In December, raise the temperature to about 65 degrees and water sparingly.
All three Holiday cacti can be propagated quite easily by removing a single segment and planting it a quarter of its length deep in a pot filled with slightly sandy soil. It helps to put some kind of rooting hormone on the base of the cutting. Place the pot in a well lit area (but not in direct sunlight) and keep the soil moist. The cutting should begin showing signs of growth after two or three weeks.
When it comes to overall care, they all have the same basic needs.
The soil should be evenly moist for best growth, but they are intolerant to constantly wet soil. They will do best in bright indirect light. Long term direct sunlight can burn the leaves and stunt growth. A well balanced general fertilizer applied once or twice a year is usually all that is needed.
Unless the plants outgrow their containers, you can usually get away with repotting every 2-3 years. The flowering can actually be encouraged by the plant being somewhat pot bound. If soil quality deteriorates rapidly, you might consider repotting more often. One of the best soil mediums to use is African Violet soil.
There are not many pests that bother Holiday cacti, other than Mealy Bugs. One easy solution is to touch each insect with an artist's brush or Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. Heavier infestations can be treated with a strong spray of water or Insecticidal Soap, repeated at about weekly intervals. If this doesn't work, a Malathion spray should do the trick. Be careful with the strong spray of water however, the joints of the plants are quite fragile and can break apart if the plant is handled too roughly.
My Mother and Grandmother always had the most beautiful "Christmas Cactus" when I was growing up. I remember marveling at the pretty flowers. Well, I think I learned a little bit about growing them.
Take a look:

I hope you all receive a Thanksgiving or Christmas Cactus as a hostess gift, if not, go out and buy yourself one. You deserve it!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Tag Does NOT Always Speak the Truth

This past week I was out at the fairgrounds, helping to identify some plants that were being placed in the flower shows. It never fails, there are LOTS of people out there that have no clue what they are growing. Yet, they want to enter their prized plants. We get the, it has pretty pink flowers, or, it changes color in the Fall.
To enter a flower show, you need to know the botanical names, as well as the common names.
As any of you that know me, I am a stickler for tags. Just ask my Mother. I like to know what the plant is. That way I know if I need to grow it in the sun, or shade, without taking a chance of cooking it.
However, with that being said, Tags are NOT the be all, to end all. I refer back to the helping identify plants for the flower show. I am the Citrus Guy, just look at the name on the blog you are reading!! I know a little something about Citrus.
We had a woman bring in a monster of a Lemon. It was a very nice specimen. She put it in as a Meyer Lemon. I said, "No, it's not a Meyer, it is a Ponderosa Lemon". She said, "The label that came with the tree says it is a Meyer Lemon". I pulled out my books and showed everybody the difference between a Meyer and a Ponderosa. Meyers have more of a nipple. Ponderosa more flat on the bottom. This was not even discussing the size. Meyers DO NOT get that big. I tried to explain that tags can be wrong. Liners can and do get mixed up at nurseries. Tags can get switched on plants. She insisted that the tag is right and that I didn't know what I was talking about.
So, I just walked away from the situation. The fruit was beautiful, made me envious. Well, apparently one of the judges also knows a little bit about Citrus. She ended up getting only an honorable mention because points were taken off for being misnamed.
I tell you this story to get you to do a little homework when buying plants. I, nor anybody else, will ever be able to identify every plant put in front of them. Tags are a very useful tool, but they can be wrong. If you are buying a plant you are familiar with, but lets say it is a different cultivar, research it online. Flower colors, fruit, what have you. I have a friend that really wanted an Orange tree. He went to a place to get said Orange tree. The salesman said, "YES, we have Orange trees, let me run in back and get one". The tree was beautiful. No flowers, fruit or tag, but very healthy. Well, you know where this is going. The next year it flowered and fruited. The fruit never turned Orange. He contacted me to see what was wrong with it. We talked for a while and I went over to his house. It was a Lime. How did I find out? I tasted one of the green fruit, definitely a Lime. The place he bought it from was now out of business, can't imagine why?! He now has a very nice healthy Lime tree and still wants an Orange tree. People can and will say anything!!
So please, while I sing the praises of tags, they are not always right.
Nurseries and Garden Centers have gone to a more efficient tagging system. They are using tags that are more efficient in tracking inventory. There is more information on them. They know there are more people out there that want to know more about the growing conditions of plant they are buying. In the past you would pick up a Cactus and it would read succulent. While all Cacti are succulents, not all succulents are Cacti. Still, there is a long way to go in the world of plant tags.
I know this posting is a little different from the posts I usually make. I just kind of felt bad for the woman with her Lemon and my friend. I really don't want this kind of thing to happen to anybody else. In today's world, there is too much information available out there and sadly too much dishonesty. You should be able to know exactly what you are getting. Hopefully, this will help at least one person.
On a closing note. Tuesday is election day here in the United States. Those close to me know which way I lean politically and I am not going to bring it up now, it does not belong in a gardening blog. But, I will say this....I don't care if you like Donkeys or Elephants. I don't care if you drink Tea. It doesn't matter if you are Conservative or Liberal. PLEASE, get your fannies out there and VOTE!!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Holy Holly!

While I was talking to my mother last weekend, she asked me a question about Hollies. She wanted to know if they should be flowering right now, I gave her one of my solid answers of No,..... well Maybe. How is THAT for decisiveness?
I needed to look it up.
From all the research I have seen, flowering in the Fall is unusual. Hers are. Well, like we always say, apparently the plant did not read the research!
Hollies are a very diverse species of plants. There are over 400 species of the genus Ilex. While some Hollies are native to the United States, many were introduced from South America and Asia.
There are of course the hollies that you see all the time and can tell it is a holly. For instance you have the Ilex aquifolium, also known as the English Holly.
Makes you think of Christmas doesn't it? There IS a reason the song goes, "Deck the halls with boughs of Holly"!
Then there are the plants that if you didn't know them, you would not think of it as holly. For instance you have the Ilex vomitoria. This one is named because it was used by Southeastern Native Americans as a ceremonial stimulant known as "The Black Drink". As the name suggests, the tea's purgative properties were one of its main uses, most often ritually.
Also known as the Dwarf Yaupon Holly. There is a taller version of the Yaupon and a Weeping version of the taller one.
Okay, how about this one? It is commonly known as the Inkberry Holly, (Ilex glabra)
Doesn't really look like a Holly, now does it?

So as you can see there are MANY different characteristics of the Holly. They can be deciduous or evergreen, small (18") or large (over 50'), and may be rounded, pyramidal or columnar in form. There are many, many similarities however.
Hollies are dioecious plants which means male and female flowers are located on separate plants. Female plants produce berries while male plants do not.
Many selections or cultivars are female plants which produce attractive fruit. Most dwarf cultivars do not produce berries since they are commonly propagated vegetatively from male plants. A male plant must be in the vicinity to pollinate the female plant. Pollen is transported primarily by bees from distances of 1 1/2 to 2 miles. So there is a VERY good chance that there will be a male nearby to your female plant. Of course, like everything else in Nature, there are exceptions, and there are hollies that are self pollinating.
While most people find the berries very pretty, they are somewhat toxic to humans, though their poisonous properties are overstated and fatalities almost unknown. They are an extremely important food source for birds and other wild animals. The colors of the berries can range from the common red, to a yellow orange to black, depending on the cultivar.
Most hollies require well drained soil that is rich in organic matter and slightly acid. They can grow in sun or shade, but will produce more berries in a sunnier spot.
They prefer a moist soil, but certainly not wet. They should never be allowed to stand in water for extended periods of time as they will develop root rot. Irrigation will be needed if a dry spell occurs.
Fertilize established hollies in March with any good fertilizer that is listed for acid loving plants or hollies themselves.
Holly can be grown from seed, but is seldom done due to the length of time required and the variabilty of the seedlings. Cuttings are more commonly used. Done in the Spring time, cuttings should be 3 to 5 inches long and treated with a rooting hormone. A humid environment to minimize water loss is required for optimum rooting.
Hollies require minimal pruning except to train the plants for special purposes, (i.e. topiaries, animal shapes, etc.) or to remove diseased or dead branches. Since they produce berries in the Fall that remain throughout the Winter they should be pruned in late Winter, before new growth begins to emerge. Any heavy pruning after flowering in the Spring will most likely remove berries.
For the most part, if you take good care of your hollies, they are relatively pest free. The most common insect pests found include scale, leaf miners, mites and spittlebugs. Many different scale insects injure hollies by sucking plant juices from leaves and stems. A substance called honeydew is secreted by some scales and a sooty mold fungus grows on the honeydew. Besides the unattractive appearance of sooty mold, hollies infested with scale become weak and unproductive.
Diseases known to attack hollies include twig dieback, stem gall, and root rot. Again, if you take good care of your bushes, they should not have much problem.
Here are some interesting Holly facts I found:
The ancient Romans believed that holly warded off lightning strikes and witchcraft and sent boughs of holly to friends during the festival of Saturnalia, which is celebrated at the Winter solstice.
The use of Holly as a symbolic winter decoration, with its shiny, prickly leaves and blood-red berries, goes back in history to the Celtic peoples of Northern Europe, who decorated their homes with it during the time of the Winter solstice, or Yule.
The early Christian Church retained many of the Celtic and Roman traditions to help celebrate the birth of Christ. The early Celtic Christians associated the prickly holly leaves with the crown of thorns from the crucifixion and the red berries with the blood of Christ.
As many of you know, I love Christmas and I love using Green Holly bushes as decoration, but my absolute favorite Holly is the Variegated English Holly.

I will leave you with one more little Holly fact, well, it may not be fact, but I believe in it. Last year, I noticed that all the Holly bushes here where VERY heavy with berries and I predicted a cold Winter, which we got. I believe that Mother Nature produced a heavy crop of berries to feed all the critters over that cold Winter. I am noticing a light set of fruit this year and it has been predicted to be a warmer, drier Winter than usual.....coincidence? We will see!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oh Yea, They're Hot!

Well, Summer has gone. Fall is fast approaching. Winter will soon rear it's ugly head. I do have a little something that will make some of you smile, I know my mother will.....Only 64 more days until the days start getting longer again!
Like most of you, I use the Winter to start planning my next years garden. The catalogs come in and I start drooling over everything. I want at least one of each and sometimes two.
One thing that I love to grow is Hot Peppers, and boy, I had a great crop this year. So, to give you some ideas of what to start dreaming about, I thought I would give you some pictures of and information about, Hot Peppers.
Chili peppers or hot peppers have been a part of the human diet since at least 7500 BC. There is archaeological evidence at sites located in southwestern Ecuador that chili peppers were domesticated more than 6000 years ago,and is one of the first cultivated crops in the Americas that is self-pollinating.
Christopher Columbus called them "Peppers", because they had a bite similar to white and black pepper, incidentally there is no botanical relationship between the two. Hot Peppers are in the genus Capsicum spp. and the black and white pepper are Piper nigrum.
There are only a few common species of peppers, those being:
Capsicum annuum, which includes many common varieties such as bell peppers, wax, cayenne, jalapeños, and the chiltepin
Capsicum frutescens, which includes the chiles de árbol, malagueta, tabasco and Thai peppers
Capsicum chinense, which includes the hottest peppers such as the naga, habanero, Datil and Scotch bonnet
Capsicum pubescens, which includes the South American rocoto peppers
Capsicum baccatum, which includes the South American aji peppers.
Even though there are only a few species, there are many cultivars and hybrids. However, peppers are commonly broken down into only three groupings: bell peppers, sweet peppers, and hot peppers. I like the hot peppers and I usually end up with the C. chinese, C. annum and C. frutescens. The hotter the better.
I did a blog sometime ago on Scoville units, so I won't go into great detail here on them. Just a quick overview, Bell peppers rate a zero. Jalapenos rate between 2,500-8000. Tabasco peppers rate 30,000-50,000. Bhut Jolokia (Ghost peppers) rate 800,000-1,000,000. Yes, you read that right, One Million. That's a hotta peppa!!
I use some of those as dehydrated flakes on my scrambled eggs. These ranges will vary according to growing conditions, heat, soil, water and a host of other things, so take them with a grain of salt.
Want to see some pictures so you know what to look for in the catalogs?



DOLMALIK (From Turkey)


Peppers take roughly 70 – 90 days to mature and during this time they like to be kept as warm as possible. 80 degrees is where they like it, they can and will handle lower temperatures, they just won't do as well. I think I had such a great season because of how freekin hot it was this year!
They want full sun and in their early part of life, a good amount of water. A well drained soil helps to avoid root rot.
Peppers are ready to be picked as soon as they are big enough or you can leave them to change color and flavor gradually. I like to see what color they are going to change to. The Atomic Starfish turn a really pretty shade of Orange. Many will turn Red, Yellow, Orange, Black and all shades in between. Habanero Peppers can even come in Brown or White.
One thing that you should remember when handling these little packets of fire, the oils will get on your hand no matter how careful you are. I know a person that was working with peppers last weekend. She was telling me that if she happened to be biting her cuticles even 6 days later, it burned her lips and tongue. I found a little secret that worked for me if my hands are burning. My wife uses these wipes to remove makeup at night, I rub them all over my hands and it seems to help. Give it a try sometime.
Harvesting your peppers will cause you to have many more. The plant will continue to try and reproduce until frost kills it. Not a bad problem to have I think.
So when the Winter blahs really start to get to you and the catalogs are starting to pile up, look up some hot peppers. If you have saved any or canned any from the Summer, they will warm you up on a cold Winter's night. Just writing about them makes me want some of my Jalapeno poppers, time to eat!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Not Exactly a Domestic Brand

Well, it is nice to be able to write a blog again. The past two weeks have been incredibly hectic. I guess everybody decided to read my last blog on Fall being the best time to plant. We got extremely busy at work, which is a good thing. Then each of the past two weekends, the Master Gardeners have had something going on. Which brings me to today's post.....but first....forgive me for this one folks....I believe today must be a good day to fertilize your is everybody's most popular fertilizer...10-10-10. Okay, sorry.....I had to get that one out.
I mentioned the Master Gardeners have had a busy couple of weekends. Last week we were out at beautiful Magnolia Gardens for their Autumn on the Ashley event. The MG's were selling plants from the nursery I work at. I had picked them out and passed the word around to all pertinent people. I got a reply back rather quickly that I should investigate and check on one of the plants I was planning on bringing. It is considered an invasive species and we DO NOT want to be known for spreading a bad plant around.
Well, they were half right. The plant that is invasive is Nandina domestica. I was bringing Nandina domestica 'Firepower'. A dwarf version. I will go through some of the differences here.
Also known as heavenly bamboo, and despite the common name, it is not a bamboo at all. Nandina is an evergreen or semi-evergreen woody shrub often used in landscaping. It is a native of China and Japan.
Reaching heights of 6-8 feet tall, it is a very elegant and lacy plant. The dwarf plant only reaches 2-5 feet tall.
Preferring reasonably rich soil, it does not thrive in sand. Nandina can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4-10. It can take heat and cold, from 110 degrees to 10 degrees. It grows well in full sun to partial shade and requires moderate to low water. It knows practically no pests unless it is extremely stressed. Leaf spot diseases can cause the lower leaves to drop from the plant in the humid regions of the nation. The disease appears to be most severe on plants grown in partial shade where the foliage can remain wet. It is one of the toughest and most adaptable plants in a variety of conditions.
'Firepower' Nandina is a noninvasive selection of the invasive ornamental, Nandina domestica, as determined by the University of Florida/IFAS Infraspecific Taxon Protocol, which is a a tool to evaluate invasiveness of cultivars and varieties. The regular Nandina is listed as a Class I invasive species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council which means that it is "actively disrupting plant communities" It produces seeds which are spread by birds ingesting them. It also spreads slowly by underground rhizomes. 'Firepower' is propagated asexually via division, cuttings or tissue culture. While not considered rhizomatous, the "crown" of 'Firepower' Nandina can increase in diameter with time. Regular Nandina domestica has naturalized and invaded habitats all over the Southeast.
I think the Firepower is much prettier anyway, especially in the Fall. The leaves turn a fire red, hence its name.

Regular Nandina is a little more plain:
Plus, you see it has the berries.
We went ahead and sold the dwarf 'Firepower', it actually sold very well, once we explained to people it would not be taking over their yards. With all this being said, many cultivars have been developed for size, berry color, and Fall and Winter leaf color, and are available at nurseries.
I am still in the thinking that invasiveness is a state of mind, to some degree. I can make the argument for just about any plant. Crape Myrtles here in the South are practically a staple in any yard, I call them crap myrtles. I see seedlings popping up all over the place in my yard, yet they are revered as the most beautiful thing this side of the Mason Dixon line. My Nandina is just sitting in the corner, minding its own business, and it has the same moniker as a serial killer.....where is the justice?!
Happy Growing!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Tis the Season to be planting!

One thing that I have been trying to get some traction with when I talk to clients about gardening is "Fall is the best time to plant. The looks I often get are amazing. You would think I just told them that a Cactus will live in Antarctica. It is true however, Fall is a GREAT time to be gardening!
Mother Nature herself tells us Fall is the time to plant. Many plants flourish all Summer long, then go to seed. The seeds are dispersed at the end of the growing season or in the Fall and get "planted". There are many seeds that need a Winter stratification to produce a new plant next Spring. Stratification is a means of Pre-treating seeds (cold stratification) as a simple measure you can take which will break a seed's dormancy. In simple terms, it needs cold to take a nap and grow next year.
In the Fall, you (theoretically) have more time to get the work done. First of all, there is a longer period of time and far more "good weather days" for planting in the Fall than during the tricky weather of Spring. Late frosts and crazy storms come to mind. Then there is the aspect of trying to clean up after Winter's mess. I don't know about you, but I seem to have much more work to do in the Spring than I do after the Summer battle. Less to clean up, the more time to plant.
The soil is warmer in the Fall than in Spring, and there's still time for roots to get established before the cold weather sets in. Fall officially begins with the Autumn Equinox in late September, but Fall weather varies considerably from one part of the country to the next. Basically, the ideal period for Fall planting is roughly six weeks before the first hard frost. And in northern areas of the country, the ideal planting period might even be late summer. In general, the window of opportunity for most folks is during September and October. Roots can grow in soil as cold as 40 degrees, and soil remains warm long after the air temperature drops. This is even more prevalent in the Northern areas, where the ground actually freezes. Plus, there is less heat stress on the leaves and stems and such, the roots can have all the attention. Just as a side note here, when you do plant a tree or shrub in the Fall, Do not fertilize it. This could spur new foliage growth that will be damaged in the cold of Winter, weakening the plant. Wait until Spring to feed it. There is some argument as to whether you should give it some slow release before it takes a long Winters nap, that way it wakes up with food already to go. I for one figure it is just better to not take a chance.
There are plants that can and should be divided in the Fall. Hostas, Iris, Cone Flowers, and for the folks up North, Tulips, Crocus and such come to mind. Spring flowering bulbs are of course the one thing everybody does think about planting in the Fall. So if you plant them in the Fall, why not divide them then? They need the cold to flower for you next year too. Other bulbs to plant now, Garlic and Onions. Perennials also need dividing to stay fresh and productive, it should be done every three years or so, why wait for Spring?
Here in the South, Lettuce, Collards, Mustard Greens and Cabbage are going into the ground now. You have to have those greens ready for "Hoppin' Johns" on New Years Day.
If all of these reasons are not good enough, how about this one. Go to any big box store or garden center.....they are probably having a great sale on trees, shrubs and perennials.....which reminds me, I need to go shopping!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Beware the Invasion

There is an invasion that, if you haven't seen it yet, is coming from our southern border. It looks friendly, can be a hard worker, but it is questionable as to whether it should be in our country. I don't know what you were thinking, but I am talking about Ruellia brittoniana (a.k.a. Mexican Petunia).
Mexican Petunia is native to Mexico, but it has escaped cultivation and has established itself in a great deal of the Southeastern U.S.
This is what mine looks like at the end of my sidewalk:

When I mentioned it has escaped cultivation, that is probably an understatement! According to the Florida Exotic Pest Council, Mexican Petunia is a Category 1 Invasive Plant. This means that it is "altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives". Where hardy, the Mexican petunia excels at invading wetlands, yards, fields, forests and anywhere else it can find soil.
Mexican petunia is a stalk forming perennial that stands up to 3 feet in height. Leaves are dark green, but the foliage will appear metallic blue/purple under full sun. They are 6-12 inches long and 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch wide. The blossoms are trumpet shaped and about 1.5-2 inches in diameter and are borne at the tips of the stems.
There is something neat about this plant, if you like this sort of thing. Every morning there is a beautiful plant full of flowers. Every afternoon, the ground looks like a ticker tape parade went through. The flowers fall off, only to be replaced by brand new ones the next morning.

It likes fertile soil that is moist. Mexican Petunia is a water plant that becomes very aggressive with access to abundant moisture. It will survive dry spells once established however. I mentioned that it likes full sun, but will do well in partial shade. The quantity of blossoms is related to the amount of light the plant receives. The more direct sunlight the more flowers. You will actually get fewer flowers appearing on overcast days or when grown in shadier conditions. There are numerous varieties with a plethora of colors to choose from Purple, White, Pink, and many shades of Blue.
Here is a picture of a Pink one I found:

The reason this thing is considered an invasive plant is because of how easy it is to propagate. The running joke is, if you break off a piece, lay it on the sidewalk, it will root! If you have a friend growing it, ask to break off a piece or two, you only need a piece about 2 inches long to root. Other characteristics that make Mexican Petunia a successful invasive plant is its rapid growth rate, Mexican Petunia will resprout from crowns or rootstocks when cut back or killed back by frost. Mine die back every year and you see how big it is.
It is typically not bothered by any pest or disease.
Use Mexican Petunia towards the back of a flowering border, or as the centerpiece in a container. Butterflies and Bees love the flowers. It blooms enthusiastically throughout the hottest time of the year. It is usually inexpensive and sold in many big box stores.
There is a dwarf variety available, it is suppose to only get about a foot tall. All of the attributes of the full size one, only in miniature. I have not seen it myself, but it is out there.

I have had no real problem with my Ruellia, but I also keep mine in containers. I see shoots coming out from around the pot occasionally, but my lawnmower or weedwhacker seems to make quick work of them.
I have had many conversations with people about invasive plants. Yes, I can see where, if this thing really was allowed to grow, it could take over the world. Marigolds can do the same thing! I have never seen my Mexican Petunia produce seeds, the shoots are removed easily, and it doesn't borrow the car keys to go over to the next county. If you keep it in control, there should be no problem in growing this very pretty, fast growing plant.
Happy Growing!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I can live with it or without it

Working at, and delivering for, a wholesale nursery, I see A LOT of plants on any given day. There are many plants that really don't bother me or I have no problems with. Things like Camellias, Ligustrum, Viburnum and such. Then there are the things that if I never see or deliver again, it would not hurt my feelings what so ever. This list includes, Barberry, Yuccas, Needlepoint Hollies and Crape Myrtles. I just don't like Crapes, the others are dangerous! They can and will inflict harm.
The plant I wanted to write about today, I literally can live with or without. It posses no harm, actually it is really easy to deliver. It doesn't do anything exciting. It is just kind of there. It is Liriope muscari, or just Liriope.
I have learned, there are two accepted ways to pronounce this. The first, and the one I prefer is, La-rye-ah-pee. The other perfectly acceptable way is, Leer-e-ohp. I heard the second way on a garden show here in South Carolina and thought the host was an idiot. I asked my boss about it and he told me both are used. I still think the host of that show is an idiot, for other reasons, but that is another story.
Liriope is a native of the shady forest floors of Eastern Asia including regions in China, Taiwan and Japan. In it's native region it is considered an understory plant, occurring in the shady forests at elevations of 330 to 4600 feet. It might be considered an understory plant, but it is extremely tough. Liriope is easily grown in average, medium, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. Ideal conditions are moist, fertile soils with partial shade. However, it tolerates a wide range of light and soil conditions, such as heat, humidity, and drought. The perfect plant for the Southeast. If it does happen to turn a little yellow, a quick shot of a Nitrogen rich fertilizer will perk it right back up.
It goes by other names which include 'lilyturf' or 'border grass'. Each of these names makes sense because it is a member of the Lily family and it is used quite extensively as a border for sidewalks and such.
Many people mistakenly call Liriope "Monkey Grass", this name is actually used more for Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus). Both Mondo grass and Liriope are hardy, deer resistant plants that withstand dry conditions and can grow in both sun and shade, but that is pretty much where the similarities end. The leaves of Monkey grass are narrower, its flowers are smaller and hidden by the leaves. Liriope typically handles full sun better than Mondo grass and is more cold tolerant. Liriope plants are fuller and taller than Mondo plants, reaching an average height of 16-20 inches. Mondo grass typically reaches a height of 6 to 10 inches. The flower colors are also different. While Mondo flowers are typically white or light purple in color, Liriope produce spikes of violet or blue flowers that appear each Summer.
                                           LIRIOPE 'BIG BLUE'

                                           MONDO GRASS

Liriope is very easy to propagate. Divide clumps into whatever size you like from a few leaves to large chunks, as long as there is some roots attached. Liriope transplants easily at any time of year. The blue-black berries are not easily germinated, so divisions are easier and quicker. You may not even need to go out and buy any, check with one of your neighbors, they may have some that they can divide and give you.
Landscape uses for Liriope include borders (along sidewalks, trails, driveways, shrubbery, and trees) and mass plantings as a groundcover. Lilyturf can be established on steep slopes where erosion control is needed. The maintenance that is required is minimal. You should cut off the foliage in late Winter, though it is not a necessity, before Spring growth starts. Be sure not to injure the crown of the plant when you cut it. It will come back, full, green and lush when the new growth begins.
The only real problem Liriope has is brown spots that appear along leaf margins and leaf tips which are caused by a fungal disease known as Anthracnose. If you cut the foliage off like I mentioned above, you should not get this problem. Just make sure you remove the debris when you are finished. Root Rot has been reported, but that is in very clay like soil with no drainage, Liriope does not like wet feet.
So as you can see, it is not an overly exciting plant. There is no real wildlife uses and other than some landscaping structures, it is just kind of there, hanging out. I think some of the cultivar names were used to try and create some excitement for this lonely plant.....things like Evergreen Giant and Big Blue sound great, but sadly, they just don't deliver.
Happy Growing!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Not Again!.... SOS for Citrus

I had initially planned on writing about something else today, UNTIL......this came across my E-Mail: New Citrus Disease Confirmed In Texas And Louisiana. I won't reuse the exact words I said when I saw this, but "Oh Crap" will suffice. I could not imagine what they had discovered now. The word "New" is what scared me. I knew Citrus Greening was already present here in the states, but what could be new?
This is where the title is a little hint. They discovered Sweet Orange Scab (SOS).
This is the first detection in the U.S. of the fungal pathogen, Elsinoe australis. The infected citrus trees were found on residential properties in Harris and Orange counties in Texas, and in Orleans parish, LA.
Luckily, it has not been found in Florida yet. They have enough problems with: Alternaria brown spot, Blight, Citrus Canker, Greening, Greasy Spot, Melanose, Phytophthora-induced diseases (foot and root rot, brown rot), Postbloom fruit drop, tristeza and common Scab. Yes, you read that correctly, common Scab. Common Citrus scab is serious on many tangerines and tangerine hybrids such as Temple, as well as grapefruit and lemons, but rarely causes lesions on sweet orange. In contrast, Sweet Orange Scab can cause significant damage on all sweet oranges as well as tangerines and their hybrids.
The damage produced is superficial and does not affect internal fruit quality or taste. Infected fruit are more likely to drop prematurely. It poses no harm to human health.
Sweet Orange Scab is common in humid citrus growing areas of South America such as Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, and Uruguay. It had not been seen here in the U.S. until this past July. Surveys completed in Texas, within a 1 square mile of the initial detection has resulted in 6 additional detections on citrus trees located on 4 separate residential properties; all in close proximity to the initial Harris County detection. The detection in Orange County, Texas, which was on some Satsuma trees is located about 100 miles east of the initial find. In August, the find of the Sweet Orange Scab was discovered in the Louisiana site on a Lime tree. Incidentally, this disease was discovered while on a routine check for Citrus Greening disease.
The causal agent of Sweet Orange Scab is the fungus Elsinoe australis, which is quite similar to Elsinoe fawcetti, the cause of common citrus scab, but clearly a distinct species. In contrast to Common Citrus Scab, The sweet scab does not form lesions on leaves or twigs. The symptoms are corky, wart-like pustules on the fruit that are tan to gray in color. These lesions are flatter than those produced by the common citrus scab.
SCAB ON RIPE FRUIT..Photo courtesy of IFAS Extension
The Sweet Scab pathogen requires moisture for production of spores and for infection to occur. The fungus attacks only young fruit. Fruit are susceptible for 6 to 8 weeks after the flower petals fall off. Fungus spores are primarily distributed by rain or irrigation being splashed between trees, and can also be spread short distances by air. The common Citrus scab pathogen survives in unfavorable conditions in old leaves and stem lesions. Long distance spread is due to the movement of infected fruit by humans. How this outbreak occurred and spread is still being investigated.
As with Common Citrus Scab, Sweet Orange Scab can be controlled by properly timed fungicide applications. Sweet Orange Scab must be controlled and confined to where it already is, even though it primarily only affects fruit for the fresh market. Why you ask? Given that the climatic conditions in Florida are suitable for establishment of the pathogen, it would increase production costs of fresh market citrus if it were introduced into that state. That Orange you take to work for lunch could suddenly skyrocket in price.
This leads me back to a theme that I have launched into numerous times on my blog. PLEASE, do not bring any exotic fruit, twig, leaf, stem or plant from another country into the United States. Just one infected plant could cause millions and millions of dollars in damage and losses. THIS disease does not look like it will be as major as Greening disease is, but it sure is going to cause a lot of headaches for the already stressed Citrus producer.
Please, I know this is probably getting old to some of you, stop the illegal importation of plant material. If you are traveling abroad, take lots of pictures, leave the cuttings and plants there. There is a lot of money at stake, and entire industries that could be in jeopardy...the plants you save, might even be ours!
Happy Growing!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Citrus Gets the Bird

If my poor Citrus trees have not had enough problems this year with the early, intense heat, Whitefly, Mealybugs, Black Sooty Mold, too much water, not enough water......Now, they are getting the bird!
I am not sure what kind of bird it is, more than likely Grackles, I haven't been able to catch them in the act, but I do recognize the damage. It looks something like this:

When it comes to Citrus, bird damage does not affect the fruit. It makes it ugly, but it is still edible. Injured peel tissue becomes blackened and develops a pock-marked surface cosmetically unacceptable for the fresh market. As the fruit approaches maturity later in the season, however, birds may penetrate into the pulp, thereby spoiling the fruit and causing it to drop.
As you all know, bird damage is probably the biggest problem fruit producers deal with. Everything from Blueberries to Strawberries, Peaches to Apples have problems with bird damage.
One thing that causes so much frustration is, birds rapidly become accustomed to conventional noise-generating devices. There have been many different things tried over the years, from the common scarecrow, to pie plates, and Barry Manilow CD's, both fluttering in the wind and being played in the field. They work for a little while, but the birds still become accustom to them and probably actually laugh at our feeble attempts, especially the Barry Manilow CD's!
Nets are by far the most effective means to thwart their attempts. As long as you are trying to protect a shrub or a small tree. Just make sure the net comes all the way down to the ground and is secure, or the little fiends will get under it and rob you anyway. If you have a large tree, this method probably won't work either.
While researching for this article, I came across some rather interesting things that, to some extent, work.
According to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management website, Propane exploders (some with timers that automatically turn them on and off each day) are the most popular frightening devices. Just the name of this one actually scares me! Though, they look like they might be kind of fun:
They say, In general, use at least one exploder for every 10 acres of crop to be protected. Elevate exploders on a barrel, stand, or truck bed to “shoot” over the crop, and move them around the field every few days. Basically, Propane exploders make a loud sound that frightens the birds, it probably doesn't do much for your neighbors either.
They say in conjunction with the propane exploders, you can enhance this method by shooting a .22 caliber rifle just over the top of a crop, a person on a stand or truck bed can frighten birds from fields of 40 acres or more. Okay, again, this method tends to frighten me a little!
There are of course a variety of other bird-frightening devices, including electronic noise systems, helium-filled balloons tethered in fields, radio-controlled model planes, reflecting tapes made of mylar, tape-recorded distress calls of birds and the good old use of firecrackers. The effectiveness of any of these is highly variable, depending on the persistence of the operator, the skill used in employing a device, and the proximity of your neighbors.
I also found a Japanese study that studied the effectiveness of a dog for protecting citrus fruits from bird damage during harvest season. A Border Collie Shepherd was tied to a wire extended along one side of a square orchard to allow him to run along the inner side of the orchard. This watchdog system was effective in reducing fruit damage by birds only in the Citrus tree row nearest to the dog runway.
Then the orchard was enclosed with a tall chain-link fence and the same dog was allowed to move freely in the orchard. In this case, he persevered in chasing birds until they flew away from the orchard. This watchdog system effectively reduced bird damage to Citrus fruits all over the orchard.
So, I guess the moral of this story is.....You want to protect your fruit, get yourself a dog, your neighbors will appreciate that a lot more than having propane explode every so often!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Give them a yard, they'll take the soot

I have mentioned all the rain we have had in the past few weeks here in Charleston. It has finally let up enough that I could really get out there and get some work done. I went to the back where all my Citrus are located, what I found was a little disturbing. It looks as if my Citrus have been fighting fires for the past week! They are covered in soot. I am pretty sure there have been no fires close to the plants and I know they quit smoking sometime last year. SO........
All kidding aside, they are covered in soot, but it has nothing to do with anything combustible. It is actually a sooty mold.

Sooty molds are dark fungi that grow on honeydew excreted by sucking insects, like Aphids, Mealybugs and Whiteflies. The latter being my problem. I thought I had gotten rid of the little white flying pains in the butt.
Sooty molds occur in all parts of North America. Capnodium citri is associated with Whiteflies and scale pests on citrus. There are other species of the mold that are associated with other pests on other plants. Basically they are all the same.
Honeydew is a sweet, clear, sticky substance secreted by the insects such as the Whiteflies. The honeydew drops from the insects to the leaves and twigs. Wind-blown sooty mold spores that stick to the honeydew then have a suitable medium for growth. Kind of like that jelly like stuff you played with in high school biology class. When the spores germinate, they send out black fungal strands that cover the plant tissue and cause the discoloration.
Although sooty molds do not infect plants, they can indirectly damage the plant by coating the leaves to the point that sunlight penetration is reduced or inhibited. Without adequate sunlight, the plant’s ability to carry on photosynthesis is reduced, which may stunt plant growth. When it can't produce food, it starves. Coated leaves may also prematurely die, causing leaf drop. Most plants will tolerate a small amount of coverage. Fruits or vegetables covered with sooty molds are edible. Simply remove the mold with a solution of mild soap and warm water. The mold itself can also be sprayed away or rubbed off with your finger.
As seen in these pictures:

Treating sooty mold is best done by treating the source of the problem first. Get rid of the sap sucking pests. If you don't, the mold will return. Luckily, there is a cure that will kill two pests with one spray. Horticultural oils. If one of the horticultural oils is used for control, it also has the advantage of helping to loosen the molds from the plant surface. This hastens the weathering away of the sooty molds. However, it may still linger on your plants for months, even after the pests have been eradicated. Horticultural oils are available at most garden centers and big box stores. There is one problem though, it can not be used in intense heat. The oil will basically do what oils do to food, cook it! Cooler weather, overcast days, or in the evening are the best times. PLEASE, make sure you follow the label directions!
Just as a side note, plants are not the only thing affected by sooty mold. If an object is under a tree or plant that has sap sucking insects present, it can be covered in the soot.
Just remember, rid yourself of the insects first, then you can clean your object.
I got lucky, it was a cloudy, cooler weekend, so I sprayed my trees with Neem oil.
Sooty mold is not as bad as it looks, it can be a major problem, but with a little work, your plant will be fine......unless they take up smoking again!!
Happy Growing!