Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You Little Stinker

A couple of years ago, I gave my mother a cute little succulent. It kind of looked like a cactus, but didn't have any spines. Then one day when I was talking to her, she was all excited because it had this huge pod looking thing growing out from it. I told her it was getting ready to flower. Well, it kept getting bigger and bigger. There was numerous references made to that old horror flick, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It finally opened up. I think my mother wanted to disown me after that! Only kidding.
She could not believe the smell coming from this thing! I had a good laugh.
In case you are wondering, I am talking about the Stapelia gigantea. This type of succulent has numerous common names, including carrion flower, giant toad flower, Zulu giant, starfish flower and (in Australia) dead horse plant. Some of these names really fit it well. It's big, it resembles a starfish and it attracts flies like a dead horse, because that is what it pretty much smells like. The flies are the principle means of pollination. It has been reported that the flies are sometimes so deceived by the odor that they lay their eggs on the flower itself, convinced that it will be a food source for their hatching larvae.
The name Stapelia was introduced by Linnaeus who described it in 1737. The name honours Johannes van Stapel, a 17th century physician and botanist.
Here is what mine looks like in flower:

Stapelias are native to the deserts of South Africa. The flowers are large, fleshy, 5-pointed stars, like a starfish. They can be 10-16 inches across.
They need a well drained, cactus type soil. Give them full sun, but be careful, if they have been shaded for any long length of time, they can sunburn. Moderate amounts of water during the growing season will be beneficial. They need a cool, dry rest period in Winter. Fertilize once during the growing season with any good fertilizer. They are best managed in pots and can withstand extreme heat. They don't like frost, if you live anywhere outside a Zone 9-11, bring them in during the Winter. Being they like a cool, dry rest period during the Winter, you can pretty much put them in a window and forget about them until Spring. I put mine in a forgotten corner of my greenhouse and they love it!
Stapelia gigantea and any of the other Stapelias are propagated by stem cuttings. Take cutting in spring when the new growth begins. Let cuttings callus up for 2-3 weeks before planting. Use any cactus potting mix to root.
There are a number of other Stapelias. To give you a very small sample of what they can look like:

Stapelia kwebensis

Stapelia grandiflora

Stapelia flavopurpurea
(Photos courtesy of S.P. Bester, National Herbarium)

The only pest that I have heard of that will bother Stapelias are Mealybugs. Luckily, I have not had a problem with them.
For a parting piece of information, they are considered an invasive plant in Hawaii and a weed in Australia.
If you can find any of these beauties, I encourage to give them a chance. Then you can always say, Oh....Look at my little stinker!
Happy Growing!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tomato Woes

All the Master Gardeners in the Tri-County area got an e-mail recently that should have some folks worried. I know it does me. Apparently, because of the weird weather we have been having there have been cases of Anthracnose fruit rot found.
This major tomato disease was first noted in 1879. It is now found in North America, Europe, and Asia. The disease results in a fruit rot which reduces the
quality and yield of tomatoes. Colletotrichum coccodes is the plant pathogen that causes it. Many common weeds and crop plants are hosts and they become inoculum reservoirs. The pathogen can overwinter on seed, in the soil, and in infected plant debris. This is a good place to stress sanitation in your garden. ALWAYS, keep leaf and dropped fruit litter cleaned up.
Symptoms of Anthracnose appear first as small, circular, slightly sunken lesions on the surface of ripening fruits. Most infection takes place on ripe or over-ripe fruit. The spots quickly enlarge, become deeply depressed, and develop a water-soaked appearance directly beneath the skin (epidermis) of the fruit.
The fungus forms small, dark survival structures called sclerotia (a compact mass of hardened fungal mycelium containing food reserves) in the centers of the fruit spots. These sclerotia can survive in soil for up to three years and cause infections either directly or by producing secondary spores. Green fruit are infected but do not show symptoms until ripening. The fungus then spreads from infected to healthy fruit as spores are splashed by rain, overhead irrigation, or by picking fruit from wet plants.
To control it, you need to harvest fruit as soon as possible after ripening. Make sure you remove infected or rotting fruits from the plant as soon as possible. Avoid excessive overhead irrigation or use drip irrigation to reduce moisture levels on fruit and humidity in the plant canopy. Fungicide sprays used to control leaf diseases help reduce losses from Anthracnose when applied on a regular schedule and in a manner to achieve thorough fruit coverage. Mancozeb or Chlorothaonil are two examples, I am sure there are others. Always follow label directions! There are no organic controls that are effective. A three-year rotation may reduce chances for infection. For example, do not plant your tomatoes where peppers, eggplants, potatoes or a previous tomato crop has been grown in at least two years. Using disease-free seed is also recommended. Resistant varieties are available and should be used whenever possible. Allow the proper spacing between your tomato plants and stake them to allow for the proper air circulation.
Here are some pictures of what it looks like:

Just so you know, there are times that you can follow all the recommendations and still get this disease. I removed one of my plants today because I discovered it. I am hoping that the rest of the varieties I am growing are the resistant ones. In the mean time, I will keep an ever vigilant watch for the signs and will try to get some fungicide this week.
Happy Growing!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I think they are talking about ME!

In my little profile to the left, I have explained the reason for my blog. I want this to be Educational, Sometimes Funny, and Always Inspirational. Well, today is in the realm of funny. Many of you may have seen this before. I received this in my E-mail today and I swear they are talking about me! Well, maybe only 75% is true, but I can relate if nothing else.

You Know You’re Addicted to Gardening When…

Your neighbors recognize you in your pajamas, rubber clogs and a cup of coffee
You grab other people’s banana peels, coffee grinds, apple cores, etc. for your compost pile.
You have to wash your hair to get your fingernails clean.
All your neighbors come and ask you questions.
You know the temperature of your compost every day.
You buy a bigger truck so that you can haul more mulch.
You enjoy crushing Japanese beetles because you like the sound that it makes.
Your boss makes “taking care of the office plants” an official part of your job description.
Everything you touch turns to “fertilizer”.
Your non-gardening spouse becomes conversant in botanical names
You find yourself feeling leaves, flowers and trunks of trees wherever you go, even at funerals
You dumpster-dive for discarded bulbs after commercial landscapers remove them to plant annuals
You plan vacation trips around the locations of botanical gardens, arboreta, historic gardens, etc.
You sneak home a 7 foot Japanese Maple and wonder if your spouse will notice
When considering your budget, plants are more important than groceries
You always carry a shovel, bottled water and a plastic bag in your trunk as emergency tools
You appreciate your Master Gardener badge more than your jewelry
You talk “dirt” at baseball practice.
You spend more time chopping your kitchen greens for the compost pile than for cooking
You like the smell of horse manure better than Estee Lauder
You rejoice in rain…even after 10 straight days of it.
You have pride in how bad your hands look.
You have a decorative compost container on your kitchen counter.
You can give away plants easily, but compost is another thing.
Soil test results actually mean something.
You understand what IPM means and are happy about it
You’d rather go to a nursery to shop than a clothes store.
You know that Sevin is not a number
You take every single person who enters your house on a “garden tour”
You look at your child’s sandbox and see a raised bed.
You ask for tools for Christmas, Mother/Father’s day, your Birthday and any other occasion you can think of.
You can’t bear to thin seedlings and throw them away.
You scold total strangers who don’t take care of their potted plants.
You know how many bags of fertilizer/potting soil,/mulch your car will hold.
You drive around the neighborhood hoping to score extra bags of leaves for your compost pile
Your preferred reading matter is seed catalogs
And last but not least:
You know that the four seasons are:
Planning the Garden
Preparing the Garden
Preparing and Planning for the next Garden

-Author Unknown, I’d love to give credit to the rightful author.
When you stop laughing and realize this too is you, let me know.
Happy Growing!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Huh, So they won't grow here?!

My mother and I have a saying about growing plants where they are not suppose to grow..... "SHHH, don't tell them, they didn't read the book".
In the past, I have had some.....I won't call them heated discussions, but some...."THEY WILL NOT GROW HERE", type of discussions. In case you are wondering, I am talking about growing Raspberries in Charleston, South Carolina. Apparently, I am in the "Ain't Gonna Happen Zone" when it comes to growing these tasty little treasures.
Huh, I wonder what these things are?

You are looking at Red Raspberries, Golden Raspberries and Black Raspberries. Oh, by the way....these are being grown in containers to boot.

Raspberries are in the genus known as Rubus. They are valuable in home gardens because of the fruits being fragile and because of their perishable nature. They come in a multitude of colors, including, Red, Purple, Black and Yellow or Golden. The only one I don't have yet is the purple, key word there is yet.
There are many health benefits to Raspberries. They rank near the top of all fruits for antioxidant strength. Raspberries are a rich source of vitamin C, with 30 mg per serving of 1 cup. That is about 50% of your daily recommended allowance. Contents of B vitamins, folic acid, magnesium, copper and iron are considerable in Raspberries along with 30% of your daily dietary fiber.
All raspberry plants are perennial, meaning the roots live for many years. The canes are biennial, they grow one year (primocanes or first year of growth) and produce fruit the following year on their (floricanes or second year of growth). The floricanes die after they have fruited. In the Spring, I wait until the canes start to flush new growth. The ones that show signs of life, I leave alone. The ones that are dead and not showing life, get cut out....pretty simple huh? This way, I don't have to try and tag them or remember which ones had fruit last year, etc.
Raspberry plants grow best in a well-drained, fertile, loam soil with moderate water-holding capacity. Avoid heavy clay soils. Sometimes you can improve a less desirable site by tiling, increasing organic matter content, and building raised beds. They prefer a soil pH 6.0 to 6.5.
The amount of water available to the Raspberry plant during the growing season is very important. Excess water can result in root disease problems, while a shortage of water can reduce overall plant vigor, especially yield. Raspberry plants need plenty of water, especially during fruiting. On average, Raspberry plants require about 1 inch of water per week. This is, of course, relative to the type of soil and where they are growing and what they are growing in, (i.e. ground or container)
Apply fertilizer in early spring when new growth is starting. A balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer is ideal. You can fertilize again about 2 months after the initial application.
You do not need more than one plant to get fruit. Though, more plants, more fruit! Raspberries are self fruitful, they do need bees to pollinate. Raspberry flowers have a high nectar content, which attracts many bees.
Research has shown that Raspberries are not well suited to southern climates because most cultivars have relatively high chilling requirements and do not tolerate high summer temperatures. I think that my way way of growing them and where I have them located is how I have bean able to beat this research. Growing in containers, the roots get a quicker and more intense chill. I also have them placed on the East side of my house. Morning sun, not the intense Western afternoon sun.

As you can see, I use a three pole tee-pee type system for support. I am also experimenting with a fan trellis. The tee-pee actually seems to work better so far. There are many, many different types of trellis systems. I encourage you to look them up online and decide which one will work best for you.
There are also many insects and diseases that can damage Raspberries. Damage can be kept to minimum if these general rules are followed:
1. Remove all wild bramble plants near the area.
2. Select high quality planting stock.
3. Destroy plants in which disease appears and prune out insect infested canes and burn them. If you are planting a new crop, they should not be planted where potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or bulbs have previously been grown. These crops are hosts for the disease Verticillium Wilt, a fungus that can stay in the soil for many years and can infest the Raspberry crop. If you do see a disease or pest on your plants, please contact your local Master Gardener or extension agent. There are different pests and diseases indigenous to different areas of the country and that alone could entail an entire blog topic.
What to do when you do finally get fruit? Pick it every 3 to 4 days. When the berries are ripe, they can be pulled off the receptacle or plug (portion that remains on the plant) quite easily. Use a shallow container to prevent the fruit from crushing. To extend shelf life, avoid picking when berries are wet and refrigerate as soon as possible.
I have VERY fond memories of picking Raspberries when I was young in New Jersey. I just wish I knew what cultivar they were, I would get some in a heartbeat! I know, I know, they won't do well that far south! HUH, watch me!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

FAQ's: Citrus

When I go out and do lectures or work at a Master Gardener sponsored activity, or even on a daily basis, I get a lot of the same questions. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with this, sometimes it actually gets funny. People don't realize that I just had somebody ten minutes ago ask me the exact same question. Here are some of the more frequently asked ones.
Q: How often should I water?
A: This is a good one that can have many answers. On average, Citrus require about one inch of water per week. Now, if you have your Citrus in the ground, it may not need to be watered as often as one in a container. It will depend on your soil type, when was the last rainfall, how old is the tree, what kind of weather conditions there has been. Sunny and hot will need more water than cloudy and cool. All of these conditions will also fall into the container category. Something else to take into account with containers, a black pot will get very hot and the moisture will evaporate very quickly. The soil temperature can reach 120 degrees in full sun. My suggestion, give your plant the finger. Stick it into the soil. What were you thinking? If it is dry up to your first knuckle, or about an inch down, give it a good drink.
Q: What should I feed my Citrus?
I like getting this question. It means that at least they are willing to feed it. It is amazing how many people will come to me with a plant that has yellow leaves and when questioned about feeding it, they never have.
I recommend a product called Citrus-Tone, made by Espoma. Fantastic stuff and it is organic. If you can't find the Citrus-Tone, the next best thing to use is a water soluable fertilizer made for acid loving plants, like Camellias and Azaleas. Please don't use the fertilizer stakes. The short version of why? They basically just sit there and don't move throughout the root zone. They can also burn the roots. You stick it into the ground, possibly right on top of some of the delicate roots and burn the crude out of them. Another product I don't like is the Citrus fertilizer that looks like fish gravel. I am sure you have seen/used it. I just don't think it works very well.
Q: Can I repot my Citrus now?
Yes! There really is no time frame for this, if you are growing in containers. Now, if you are planting it in the ground, definitely wait until Spring. I have transplanted in the middle of Summer, with it full of fruit, and no ill effects. Just make sure you give it lots of water. There is LOTS of discussion as to what size pot to go up to. I, for one, usually go at least two sizes up. There are many people that say you should only go one size, there are others that go from a one gallon to a thirty gallon. The choice is yours. I go two sizes because I have so many trees, it buys me a little time in between repots.
Q: All the little fruits keep falling off?
This can be caused by a number of reasons. Age of the tree is first on the hit parade. If the tree is only a couple of years old, it may just not be mature enough. If the tree is not getting enough sun it may not produce. If it has actually produced fruit in the past, then one of the reasons could be lack of bee activity. If the flowers do not get pollinated, they will not produce fruit. Irregular watering can also be another culprit. Fertilizers or lack of certain minerals can cause fruit drop. I had a client just the other day with this problem. She actually had three things going against her. The watering, lack of bees and she was only giving the tree Fish Emulsion. Normally, I would say great on the fish emulsion, but not as an "only" fertilizer. It needs a little more than just Nitrogen. Phosphorus, Potassium and numerous so called "Micro-nutrients" all play a vital role in fruit development There is also a phenomenon called "June Drop", the tree will naturally shed all the fruit it can not bear in a single season. They are smarter than we are. If it drops ALL the fruit then see the first of this answer.
Q: Do I have Citrus Greening Disease?
This one usually requires a visual inspection. Even then, I am not a qualified professional to give you a 100% yes or no answer. What I can tell you is, look at the yellow leaf. If there is a mirror image of the coloring, in other words, if the left side of the leaf looks like the right side, it is probably a nutritional problem. If there is a single branch that suddenly bolts out and turns yellow or if the leaf has irregular patterns of blotching, call your local extension agent. They will know who to call for your area. Another way to tell is, if the fruit is irregular in shape or is very bitter after having been sweet before, you might have a problem.
Q: Where did you get all your trees from?
Everywhere and anywhere. I have scoured the internet. I have friends all over the world that I have traded seeds with. There are many websites that have some very cool Citrus trees for sale and there are even a few that just sell the seeds. You REALLY need to be careful though. There are many places that have a quarantine in place and you DO NOT want to receive plants from these places. Florida is the first place that comes to mind. Also, Georgia, parts of Texas, Louisiana, Charleston and Beaufort counties in South Carolina. Internationally, I would stay away from Brazil, and Asia.
Q: I have a Meyer Lemon that.....?
I have to try not to chuckle when somebody starts a question with this. I am not a fan of Meyer Lemons and it seems that everybody and anybody that grows Citrus has one of these things. Believe it or not, I don't. I am just not fond of the taste. In case you are wondering, a Meyer Lemon is a cross between a sweet Orange and a Lemon, hence it being known as a sweet lemon. Give me Eureka or Lisbon lemons any day. It really became an inside joke with me, my wife and my mother after I became a Master Gardener known as "The Citrus Guy". It just seemed to be every other question asked whenever I was out answering questions or somebody would stop me in the store. Don't get me wrong, if you enjoy the taste, it is a great tree to have. It is just not my cup of lemonade.
Hopefully, this has answered any questions that you didn't know to ask or just haven't gotten around to asking. I enjoy answering anything that you may want to know about Citrus. But please, don't get offended if you start the question with....My Meyer Lemon....and I start to chuckle!
Happy Growing!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

DIE Dieback!

I have recently gotten into Camellia growing the past couple of years. I am a very competitive person and wanted to get into the flower showing contests. I figured it would be about as hard as Citrus growing or anything else that I do. I read up on all the different diseases and cultural requirements, so I figured I was ready to go. Then came this season. I am living in Dieback City! Nasty little fungus. This is one of the most serious of all camellia diseases. It attacks Camellia sasanqua, Camellia reticulata, and Camellia hybrids more severely than Camellia japonica, although it causes damage and plant death among all of the camellia species. It seems to be mostly on my japonicas.
It is botanically known as Glomerella cingulata. I know it as a pain in the gluteus maximus.
This is what my plants look like that have it:

Basically, the progression goes like this.
The new Spring growth wilts, then in rather quick order, the leaves turn a dull green color, later brown, while often remaining attached to the stem. The wood at the base of these stems is dead and discolored in appearance if the bark is scraped off. This prohibits the movement of water to the leaves causing the wilting and eventual death. The fungus needs a wound or opening to enter into the plant. Natural leaf scars are probably the most common entry point. However, injury by mowers, rodents, yard tools, grafting, etc., create wounds where infection may occur. Warm, wet and humid weather in addition to high nitrogen fertilization favors disease development. Is it any wonder, why we have a problem with it here in the Southeast?
The fungus continues to destroy the adjacent wood tissue while the surrounding healthy wood continues to grow, thereby enlarging the stem diameter. This area of dead cells appears to be sunken since there is no new growth of the stem, resulting in a canker. The canker, composed of this area of dead wood, provides the food base for the fungus so that it may survive from season to season and reproduce by producing millions of spores. The fungal spores are easily disseminated by insects walking across wounds or by splashing rain and/or irrigation water. If cankers form on the main trunk of the plant, this disease may eventually cause the death of the entire plant.
Fungicides can be used during the Spring at leaf drop to prevent spread of this disease. The fungus is sensitive to some fungicides. However, once the organism invades the plant tissue, these fungicides are ineffective on the canker, but still can provide protection against future infections. Just a reminder, ALWAYS follow label directions for any chemical....this is the LAW!
I asked some friends of mine, that are major Camellia growers, if they are having a higher than usual occurrence of this problem this year. I got a resounding, YES! The discussion then turned to the reason, why. The best we have been able to come up with is because of the unusual Winter we had. Brutal cold, snow in unusual places, and the relatively short Spring we all had. I haven't been able to find any research to back this up, but it sounds good to me.
Their really is no good cure for this, Control is the goal. Keeping a plant as healthy as possible, maintaining good sanitation, avoiding excessive fertilization and providing good ventilation by not planting too close is the best advice I can find.
What am I doing and what should be done, once a plant is infected? A friend of mine in Florida spelled it out in three words: Prune-Prune-Prune! You should prune two to four inches below the infected area into healthy tissue. Make cuts just above vigorous side branches. Always disinfect pruning tools after each cut by wiping blades with rubbing alcohol or dipping them into a 10 percent bleach solution (1 part bleach in 9 parts water). Burn or discard disease branches and twigs, preferably NOT in your compost bin.
As for me, I have MORE pruning to do. This is my second attempt at eliminating this thing.
Happy Growing!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Angels and Devils

I guess you could say, this blog is about something as old as time itself. Actually it is about a couple of different flowers that, at one time, where in the same genus. Even to this day, I feel, they are incorrectly lumped together. With that being said, the fact that they have very similar growing requirements AND there is the American Brugmansia & Datura Society, I can understand the confusion. They ARE in the same family, Solanaceae. Does this family sound familiar to you? It should, it is the same one that has Tomatoes, Potatoes, Peppers and Eggplants.
Though they are of different genus' Datura (Devils Trumpet) and Brugmansia (Angels Trumpet),there are numerous hybrids of both, and, like I said, they are all grown pretty much the same.
Let's start with the Devils Trumpet, Datura metel. The reason for the name Devils Trumpet? The flowers point up, as if trumpeting from down below. It is native to southeast Asia, including southern China and India. It has become naturalized as a roadside and waste area weed in many parts of the tropics, including Australia where it is listed as a noxious weed. It has an upright posture, attaining a height of 3-5 feet. It will grow in pretty much any kind of soil and prefers full sun. They are Zoned from 7-10 and can be treated as annuals anywhere North of Zone 7. It is propagated mostly by seeds. This is what the seed pod will look like before it ripens:

This is a sample of what the flower looks like:

Flowers come in white, yellow, purple and even blue, and many cultivars have double or triple flowers.
Double Purple Datura:

Cultivars with purple flowers have dark purple stems; otherwise stems are green.
All parts of the Devils Trumpet(as well as the other species of Datura) are poisonous and could be fatal if ingested by humans, livestock or pets. Eating even a small amount of leaves, flowers or fruits could cause severe headache, hallucination, or even unconsciousness. Cases of deliberate poisoning have been linked to various species of Datura.

The Angels Trumpet, Brugmansia suaveolens. I bet you can guess why these are called Angels Trumpet? You got it! The flowers hang down like a Trumpet from Heaven. They are semi woody shrubs or small trees that can get to be 6-15 feet tall. They are native to subtropical regions of South America, along the Andes from Colombia to northern Chile, and also in southeastern Brazil.
Like the Devils Trumpet, Angels like full sun, and pretty much any soil. It is zoned for Zones 10-12. In zones 8-9, it dies to the ground in Winter and resprouts in spring. Because of this it rarely exceeds 8 feet in height. Plants that are repeatedly killed to the ground Winter after Winter often weaken and die in a few years. Mine seem to be doing very well after many years, so take that last sentence with a grain of salt. The flowers are usually white but may be yellow or pink. There will be people that argue with me about colors. There are probably many hybrids out there, I have only ever seen the three colors that I listed. Propagation is by cuttings. Supposedly, according to research, it can also be propagated by seeds, mine have never produced seed pods, so the jury is still out on this. I often wonder if this is a result of them being confused and the Brugmansia does NOT really produce seeds. The Angel Trumpet is an exotic and tropical looking shrub that makes a striking specimen in the landscape or a prized container plant on the patio.

I will post a warning for this one also. All parts of this and other Angel Trumpets are narcotic and poisonous. Some people have ingested or smoked Angel Trumpet for its narcotic effects, and some of those people are no longer with us. The use of Angel Trumpet as a landscape plant is banned in some municipalities.
So next time you see one of these flowers or somebody wants to know what it is, remember this: Datura (Devils Trumpet) points up......Brugmansia (Angels Trumpet) points down.
Happy Growing!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Another Way To Eat

With all the rain we have been getting here in the Southeast as of late, I haven't been able to feed my gardens, especially my Citrus, the normal way I usually do. A water soluable fertilizer is not a good idea to be applying when the plant is already water logged. Luckily, I have the technology to overcome this problem.....Foliar Feeding. Foliar feeding is a technique of feeding plants by applying liquid fertilizer directly to their leaves. I know, I am still applying water, just not near as much and not to the root system. Foliar feeding is not intended to completely replace soil applied fertilization of the macronutrients (nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous). However, macronutrients can be foliarly applied in sufficient quantities to influence both fruit yield and quality. Foliar feeding is proven to be useful under prolonged spells of wet soil conditions, dry soil conditions, calcareous soil, cold weather, or any other condition that decreases the tree’s ability to take up nutrients when there is a demand. Foliar feeding is considered especially useful for introducing trace elements (micronutrients), or for "emergency" feeding of plants which are found to have a specific shortage. But in some cases, with tomatoes, for example, it is believed that foliar feeding during flower set causes a dramatic increase in fruit production. Ocean products like seaweed, kelp and fish are common components of foliar fertilizers because they're rich in micronutrients.
It all started when "Dr. H.B. Tukey, renowned plant researcher and head of the Michigan State University Department of Horticulture in the 1950s, working with research colleague S.H. Wittwer at MSU, first proved conclusively that foliar feeding of plant nutrients really works. Researching possible peaceful uses of atomic energy in agriculture, they used radioactive phosphorus and radiopotassium to spray plants, then measured with a Geiger counter the absorption, movement, and utilization of these and other nutrients within plants. They found plant nutrients moved at the rate of about one foot per hour to all parts of the plants.
Being a Citrus grower, I found this to be most interesting in the fight against Citrus Greening Disease. Several Florida citrus growers and production managers are using foliar nutritional sprays, mainly micronutrients, to slow down decline and maintain adequate fruit productivity of citrus greening-infected trees. Leaf application of nutrients is of significant importance when the root system is unable to keep up with crop demand or when the soil has a history of problems that inhibit normal growth. In other words,the reason this works with the Citrus Greening is because the disease effects the flow of nutrients from the roots to the leaves and fruit. The theory is, by feeding the plants directly through the leaves, the tree will maintain production a little longer.
As great as foliar feeding sounds, it does have some disadvantages. For one, it can burn the plants. Applications when the weather is warm (above 80 degrees) should be avoided. It is recommended that foliar feeding be done in morning or evening, since hot days cause the pores on some plants' leaves to close. Cloudy days would also be acceptable, however if rain is forecasted, best to wait. You don't want it to get washed off before the plant has a chance to taste it do you?
Just to re-emphasize, Foliar feeding is not a replacement for a healthy soil. Plants were not designed to take up nutrients through the leaves and fruit. Ideally, you want to get your soil tested, add lots of good compost, and generally take care of the soil your plants are in.
When I am giving my Citrus their occasional foliar spraying of Fish Emulsion, I tell them they are getting Pizza. They think they are just getting something else to eat, kind of like teenagers, they don't have to know it's good for them.
Happy Growing!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bee-ing on a frenzy

I have been on a frenzy lately trying to attract bees to my yard. My Citrus, Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers, Squash, etc, all need to be pollinated. I have been strategically placing pots of flowers all around the yard. It has worked to some degree. What I should have done was just wait until the Chaste Tree Flowered. The amount of bees feeding on the tree is amazing! This magnificent specimen of a tree/shrub is also know by the name Sage Tree, Hemp Tree, Monk's Pepper and Vitex. Botanically it is known as Vitex agnus-castus. I have the cultivar "Shoal Creek". It is now in full bloom.

Vitex is hardy in Zones 6-10. Though in Zone 6 additional protection against the extreme cold may be needed. It will grow in practically any well draining soil, both acid and alkaline soils, and is even tolerant of salt spray. It likes full sun to partial shade. It is a rapid grower on its own, with some fertilizer and mulch, it is even faster. Want an idea of the pace these things can grow? Let's say you want to maintain the plant at the size range of say six feet, plants should be cut within a few inches of the ground every winter. It will sprout and bloom by June. That's pretty fast in my book!
If left to it's own accord, the Vitex will average about 20 feet tall and 10-15 feet wide.
The flower spikes are, on average, 6-10 inches long. They can be lilac, pale violet,or almost blue. There is one variety that has white flowers. These are rather drab looking however. It flowers in the Spring, through the Summer and Fall sporadically. You can get it to reflower more often by clipping off the spent flowers or "Deadheading". Plus, it has a pleasant scent. This tree is VERY attractive to bees,(as I mentioned earlier), butterflies and hummingbirds. You may want to plant it where you can really enjoy the show.
It is drought tolerant, Deer resistant, not usually bothered by any other pests, and makes a very attractive specimen plant. It is deciduous, meaning it will lose it's leaves in the Winter, just keep that in mind if you were hoping for any kind of cool Winter interest. Propagation is by seed in the Spring and Fall or by cuttings which are easy to root in warm weather. Supposedly, Vitex reseeds itself into landscaped beds and can become somewhat weedy. I have not personally had this problem, so take that with a grain of salt if you are worried about it being invasive.
The Vitex is not native to the states, having been introduced from the woodlands and dry areas of southern Europe and western Asia, back in the early 19th Century. It was known in English gardens as early as 1570.
There was even some ancient medicinal remedies. The Chaste tree has been used for the treatment of menstrual difficulties for at least 2,500 years. The Greek physician Hippocrates (460-377 B.C.) wrote, "If blood flows from the womb, let the woman drink dark wine in which the leaves of the chaste tree have been steeped". Sorry guys, this was probably bordering on TMI.
Even as recently as 1992 there has been studies on the effect of Chaste Tree extracts and PMS. If you want to read more on this, Check out: http://www.stevenfoster.com/education/monograph/vitex.html

At the beginning, I mentioned that the Vitex has numerous names, including Hemp Tree. Due to its leafy resemblance to marijuana (Cannabis sativa), friends will do a doubletake when they spot this plant in your garden. Depending on background and viewpoint, they will either be bitterly disappointed or utterly relieved when they discover that it's not.

Happy Growing!