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Drought Tolerant Plants for Georgia

Recently here in Georgia, we have received plenty of rain. For that, we are very thankful. But it is wise to make provisions for drought to return, and plant wisely when planning our gardens. Below you will find a list which includes plants we are successfully growing in our garden with no supplemental water. Some are native, some are not. Aspidistra (Cast Iron Plant) Callicarpa americana (Purple Beauty Berry) Carolina Jessamine Daphne odora (Fragrant Winter Daphne) Hellebore (Lenten Rose) Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea) Oxalis (Wood Sorrell) Pachysandra Procumbens Pomegranate Rhododendron austrinum (Florida Flame Azalea) Rhododendron alabamense (Alabama Native Azalea) Rohdea Japonica (Nippon Lily/Japanese Sacred Lily) Sedums Spirea Wisteria frutescens (American wisteria-Not invasive!) For more information on any of these recommended plants, please visit Shady Gardens Nursery.

Master Gardener Class Offered in Troup County, Georgia

Master Gardener Class for 2009 Do you want to learn more about how to make your garden grow, identify plants, and meet other people who are also interested in gardening? If so, applications are now being taken for the 2009 Master Gardener Class in Troup County. 

The class is open to residents of Troup, Harris, Heard, Meriwether, Muscogee and Coweta Counties in Georgia and also Lee, Chambers and Randolph Counties in Alabama. Gardeners receive training in a variety of areas such as landscape design, soil and plant nutrition, plant physiology, turf grass maintenance and other related topics. 

Those participating will then volunteer to assist the local County Agents and local gardeners to answer their gardening questions and participate in special gardening projects with other Master Gardeners. 

The classes are taught by professionals in their field, University professors and other well qualified individuals. Classes will be held at the Troup County Agriculture Center, 21 Vulcan Materials Road, LaGrange and will meet from 9:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday from January 27 through April 2, 2009. Cost for the program is $125.00 and includes the textbook, all classroom materials, a name badge and certificate. A minimum of $75.00 is required with the application. 

In the first year following completion of the course, class members are required to contribute 50 hours of volunteer time in the Community and to the Extension Service to receive their certification as a Master Gardener. To retain certification, 25 hours of volunteer service are required each year. For an application or more information, call the Troup County Extension Service at 706-883-1675 or stop in at the Extension Office, Suite 2200 in the County Government Center at 200 Ridley Avenue, LaGrange. Applications must be received in the office by December 15, 2008.

The Winter Garden

Since a Georgia winter has frequent warm days, we enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors even in January and February. Although native plants are most important to us, finding native plants that are showy in winter can be challenging. We do have many non-native evergreens in our garden. In addition to the popular choices of Azaleas, Camellias, and Hollies which we all must have, here is a list of some less common plants I've found to be truly easy to grow:
  • Daphne odora - Fragrant Winter Daphne - a compact evergreen shrub available with variegated foliage and winter blooms of either pink or white. Extremely fragrant! Drought-tolerant and shade-loving. (Requires very well-drained soil.)
  • Fatsia Japonica, Japanese Aralia, is an evergreen shrub with large hand-shaped leaves. Fatsia sends up a weird looking white bloom spike in winter. Very drought-tolerant. Likes deep shade.
  • Rohdea Japonica, Japanese Sacred Lily or Nippon Lily, is an evergreen groundcover that loves dry shade. Once established, Rohdea is the perfect plant for a Christmas garden, since the insignificant summer flowers turn into large, juicy-looking (but poisonous) red berries just in time for Christmas.
  • Mahonia, sometimes called Grape Holly or Leatherleaf, is one of my favorite evergreens for shade. Mahonia has an irregular growth pattern that I find difficult to describe, so I've included a photo above so you can see it for yourself. The prickly holly-like leaves are evergreen, and the plant is most attractive when grown Notice the purple berries on our plants. Very showy yellow blooms appear right around Christmas and last about a month. Since bees come out here in winter, the flowers are well-pollinated so the 'grape-like' berries develop by spring. The birds don't eat them until they shrivel like raisins.
  • Aspidistra elatior, Cast Iron Plant, truly lives up to its common name. Spikey leaves resembling a peace lily or Mother-in-law's Tongue are evergreen. Aspidistra enjoys deep shade and tolerates drought as if she enjoys it!
  • Hellebore, Lenten Rose, is an perennial/groundcover plant with palmate evergreen leaves. Hellebores display a variety of different colored blooms in winter, often when it's just too cold to go outside, so plant them in shade where you can view them from inside!
For more information and photos of these plants, visit Shady Gardens Nursery.

Chickens in the Garden

If you've been out to our garden, you've probably seen the chickens. Barney the Rooster was an Easter chick a few years ago, a gift from my little girl's classmate. When we decided Barney might be lonely, we obtained a mate for him and named her Thelma Lou. She has been a wonderful addition to our family, providing delicious eggs regularly, in addition to 'organic insect control.'

Each day we let them out of the greenhouse which serves as a night time shelter from predators. The chickens scratch around all day long, eating bugs and fluffing the mulch.

One day we decided that our garden was just too much work for two chickens, so we added the Fun Girls, Daphne and Skippy. Together they wander around the garden all day long, keeping insects under control.

Last summer we noticed a definite reduction in the number of Japanese Beetles. I'm certain that is a result of the chickens' enjoyment of them the previous summer. The chickens would rush to my side each time I walked near the arbor where grape vines grow. At that time the vines were covered with Japanese Beetles, and if I tapped the vine, what seemed like hundreds of the pests would drop to the ground. I wish you could have heard the clucking of the chickens as they enjoyed each one!

In addition to providing eggs and helping with insect control, chickens are a great hobby, offering amusement and fun in the garden for children and adults. In other words, the chickens make me laugh. I just get tickled when I see them running to catch up with the others when one finds something tasty!

Osmanthus fragrans: Sweet Tea Olive

One of my most favorite evergreen shrubs has to be the Tea Olive! When in bloom, my whole garden smells like peaches! I must say Osmanthus fragrans is one of the easiest plants to grow. This large growing evergreen shrub grows well in full sun to partial shade. Not picky about soil, the tea olive tolerates clay soil and is drought tolerant (once established.) The most sensational bloom is in fall, but Osmanthus fragrans blooms sporadically year round. The fragrance is most notable in the evening on warmer days. Blooms are so tiny that you'd never suspect the heavenly fragrance is coming from them! Evergreen foliage is a rich green that holds up well in floral arrangements. Osmanthus fragrance is hardy in USDA Zones 8-11, but is often seen in Atlanta which is Zone 7. Can withstand temperatures down to 10 degrees with no foliar damage.

Fall Planting is Best for Azaleas, Hydrangeas, and Most Other Shrubs

Fall is the best time to plant shrubs and trees. Our weather usually begins cooling off in September, making gardening easier on both the plant and the gardener! Although daytime temperatures are still hot, our nights are cooler. October is a great time to plant Azaleas, Blueberries, and Hydrangeas. This time of year just brings better weather for shrubs to establish themselves without having to fight for their lives! So if you dream of beautiful blooms covering your yard on shrubs like azaleas, hydrangeas, snowball bushes, etc, do yourself and your plants a favor and plant them now, instead of waiting until spring. If your dream includes eating tasty blueberries from your own garden, plant those now too! Since we still are not receiving regular rainfall, you’ll need to water newly planted trees and shrubs once or twice weekly, especially while these hot days continue. Shrubs planted in fall will have a head start over spring planted ones, and will have a greater chance of survival during our heat wave next summer. Even though the top growth of the plant will be dormant and might not even have any leaves, the roots will continue to grow through the winter. So get out there and enjoy the beautiful weather we’re having, and remember to pray for rain!

Drought Survival Tips

If you're in the Southeast as we are, I know you're thankful for the rain we've been receiving. I'm now encouraged and excited about the upcoming gardening season, and we're again making plans about what to plant. The whole state of Georgia, as well as much of our country, sufferered tremendously from the drought last year. We'd be wise to plan ahead to be hit hard with it again this year. Currently I'm studying on what plants in our garden made it through the drought last year, and searching for new varieties of those to add this year. I'll let you know in future posts what I find out!

As we dealt with the drought during the past few years, we've come upon a few tips for survival, and I thought I'd share them with you:


  • Conserve water every way you can. Save water for later use by leaving a bucket in the shower or fill buckets from leftover bath water to use for watering plants. Install a rain collection barrel to collect rain now while it's plentiful.

  • Amend the soil with compost. Well-amended soil retains water better, and plant roots are better able to move freely through the soil to reach available water and nutrients, making for healthier plants ready to fight the drought.

  • Plant drought tolerant plants! If you must have some of the plants that are less able to cope with water shortages, plant them close together in a spot where you can easily water them with reclaimed water.

  • Mulch, mulch, mulch! Apply a thick layer--up to 4 inches thick--of a good organic mulch. Don't use things like gravel unless you're growing cactus. And it turns out that mulch made from recycled tires could be cancer-causing, according to a report from Environment and Human Health Inc http://www.ehhi.org/reports/turf/). Good organic mulch not only retains soil moisture and protects roots, but also breaks down in time, enriching the soil.

Remember to check back soon for my suggestions on drought tolerant plants for your Georgia garden.

Wood Ashes Lower Garden Soil Acidity

Lilacs enjoy alkaline soil
I don’t know about you, but during the winter, I just cannot get warm without a fire! Every time I build a new fire however, something must be done with the ashes from the previous one. Well, we try to recycle as much as we can, and I just abhor waste. What can we do with those wood ashes?


A great way to use them is to apply them to the garden. Before we do that, we must decide which garden area would benefit from wood ashes. Ashes from hardwood trees make great soil amendment for certain types of plants. They contain nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, and other elements that will promote bloom and strengthen roots on plants such as lilacs, rosemary, and peonies, as well as certain vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and collards. Don’t use ashes from charcoal fires or from treated lumber, because they contain chemicals that would be harmful to plants.


The addition of wood ashes can be of great help to you when growing plants that prefer ‘sweet’ or alkaline soil, especially if your soil is very acidic. The wood ashes will sweeten the soil, making it less acidic. You must be careful where you deposit the wood ashes, because plants like blueberries, camellias, azaleas, and rhododendrons all need acid soil, and will perish if you apply wood ashes around them.


To find out what kind of soil you have, you can take a soil sample to your local County Extension Service for evaluation. They’ll have to send it off for testing, and for more information, go to: http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/C896.htm or just call your local county extension office.


Also, as with most fertilizers, a little of the wood ashes goes a long way. Apply no more than 20 pounds per 1000 square feet per year.

Plus, wood ashes should never be applied too close to tender roots of newly planted seedlings, so it’s best to apply them to the soil well in advance of planting time. Wood ashes are also beneficial to lawns if applied very sparingly and watered in well.


In addition to soil benefits, wood ashes are a natural slug repellant---just encircle the vulnerable plant with a ring of ashes and the snail/slug will not cross the line! Since ashes won’t be as plentiful this summer when snails are munching, you might want to save some for later in a galvanized bucket.

Rabbiteye Blueberry Bushes Easy to Grow in Georgia


Many times Blueberry Bushes sold in our local garden center stores will not grow here in Georgia—they are not able to tolerate our summer heat and humidity. There are several "Rabbiteye" varieties recommended for the Southeast. Highbush blueberries will not thrive in our area.

When selecting blueberry plants for your garden, look for Becky Blue, Climax, Premier, Tifblue, or Woodard. For a good crop of berries, you will need 2 or more different varieties for cross-pollination.

Although blueberry bushes normally occur in the woods, more berries will develop when the plants receive at least half a day of sun and plenty of water.

The planting hole is important for getting the plant off to a good start. An effective planting method is to dig the hole twice as wide as the rootball and the same depth. Mix the soil with plenty of organic matter such as compost, manure, and peat moss. Place the plant in the planting hole and fill the hole completely with water before filling in with soil. After filling in around the roots with the amended soil, water again, and apply a thick layer of organic mulch to conserve moisture and keep the soil cool.

Water weekly. You’ll be eating blueberries every year, as long as you get to them before the birds do!

Rain Barrel: Save Water for Future Drought!

Well, we went from no rain in sight with creeks drying up all over the place to large amounts of rain every few days! Wow! It just goes to show you we can never underestimate the power of prayer! The fact that rain is sometimes plentiful and then scarce again has prompted many gardeners to devise methods of saving that precious water for hard times. One method of rain collection that is becoming more popular is the rain barrel. I’ve seen numerous methods of building such a collection system, some quite expensive. One thing we in Georgia must consider is mosquito control, but safety is an important concern as well—it must be impossible for children and small animals to get into the barrel which would contain perhaps several feet of water. In addition to holding down costs on your water bill, it is wise to conserve and protect our most important resource—water. Ready made Rain Barrels can be purchased, or you can build one yourself. The photo above shows how attractive a rain barrel can look, while conserving water at the same time. Walter Reeves has 2 different methods of building a rain barrel online at http://www.walterreeves.com/how_to/article.phtml?cat=26&id=1005. If building a rain barrel is a matter that interests you, and you live near Troup County, Georgia, you’ll want to attend the upcoming Watersmart Program sponsored by the Troup County Extension Service in February. The Watersmart Program is an instructional program presenting many different water smart ideas for homeowners. During this program, Jennifer Davidson will demonstrate how to build a rainbarrel. A very small fee will be charged for the program which will be at the Troup County Agricultural Center at 10 am on February 8, 2008. To register, please call the Troup County Extension Service at 706-883-1675.

January Ideas for Georgia Gardens

Even in mid-winter, there are many things you can do in the garden to enjoy those sporadic warm days we often have during January and February here in Georgia. Any time is a great time to improve your soil, but now would be ideal since you probably aren’t doing much planting. Soil amendments can be anything from homemade compost, composted manure, mushroom compost, or purchased soil conditioner. Do you ever wish you had some of those old-fashioned plants like your grandmother used to grow? Well, now is also a great time to order seeds. Order seeds of Nicotiana, Cleome, and other summer flowering favorites now, so you’ll have them ready when it’s time to plant. There are many mailorder seed catalogs, but I have found seeds from the following to always be fresh and reliable:

Winter is also a good time to have your soil tested. Soil tests can be purchased at most home & garden stores, but a more accurate result can be obtained from your local county extension service. In addition to more detailed and reliable soil nutrition levels, the report from the extension service will tell you exactly what you need to add to make your soil better! For complete instructions on soil testing, you can view the online publication:

http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/C896.htm or just drop by your local County Extension Office to pick up a soil testing bag with instructions. You'll be charged a small fee when you take your soil sample back to the office where it will be sent to your state university for testing.

However you decide to spend the rest of your winter, I hope you'll enjoy those nice days and take a walk through your garden as you dream of how much more beautiful it will be this year with regular rain. (I’m optimistic!)

Italian Arum for the Winter Shade Garden


An unusual perennial I enjoy seeing in the winter garden is Italian Arum. Just as the Hostas disappear for the winter, the beautiful deep green leaves of Arum Italicum emerge. The variegated leaves are arrow-shaped and very unusual, sometimes growing quite large—up to 12 inches long on mature plants. Italian Arum is a tuberous perennial, which is probably why it is so hardy and tolerant of the drought so common in Georgia. The leaves are variegated green and white and last until May. Mature plants produce an Arum-type spathe in spring followed by bright red berries that remain on the stalk even after the leaves have disappeared. Italian Arum forms a nice clump of leaves about a foot tall, and is a great companion plant for any perennial that dies down for the winter. It grows well with hosta, ferns, and hellebores. As the hosta leaves emerge, Italian Arum will go to sleep for the summer, storing energy for an even better show the next fall. An added bonus is that deer will not touch Arum Italicum! For information on how to purchase this plant, click here. I hope you’ll enjoy the warm spells we have in between the cold snaps by getting outside, and remember to pray for the regular rain showers to continue!

Daphne Odora: Rare Shrub for Winter Bloom

Daphne odora is one of the easiest shrubs to grow, yet is very difficult to find in nurseries. Available with either white or pink blooms and variegated or solid green leaves, Daphne odora is probably the most fragrant shrub you can find. Not an overpowering scent, but a very pleasant one, described by some as being the scent of fruit loops, while others insist the fragrance is that of fresh lemons. What is perhaps most amazing about this shrub is that the blooms come at a very rare time for flowers--right in the middle of winter! Beautiful even when not in bloom, Daphne odora, despite its reputation, is surprisingly easy to grow. Daphne requires well-drained soil in shade. Give Daphne a try, and you'll love it!