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!