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!
Darren

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!
Darren

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, jalape├▒os, 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?
CHILE HABANERO

JALAPENO

ATOMIC STARFISH

DOLMALIK (From Turkey)

BHUT JOLOKIA

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!
Darren

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 plants....it 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!
Darren