Spiders: Friend or Appetizer?

I  have always said that the only good spider is a dead spider. Arachnophobia runs in my family. The fear of spiders was passed down to me by my father and his father before him and so on. 

My little boy does not seem to have inherited that fear. He once reprimanded a school friend for stomping a grandaddy spider. He is the spider expert in our home: he decides if the spider should be exported to the garden or killed on site. He's very good at his job and knows his stuff. While I hate to admit it, spiders are beneficial. Just the other day my son told me something I'd never thought of--If there were no spiders, we'd be overcome with flies. Hmmm...now flies I hate too, especially when I'm trying to cook or eat. 

Although I still say they don't belong in the house, there are many benefits to having spiders around. I hope writing a post about spiders won't give me nightmares tonight, but I want to share with you some of their good traits:
  • Spiders eat insect pests like flies, grasshoppers, mosquitoes, and even roaches that carry diseases or eat our garden plants. 
  • Spider venom is used in medical research. Neurological studies show that spider venom might be used to prevent permanent brain damage in stroke victims. Another medical study suggests that spider venom may help treat arthritis. And still other research reports that venom from spiders will eventually be used in the treatment of some heart conditions.
  • Due to its durable strength and amazing elasticity, spider silk is used in making optical instruments for laboratories.
  • If the spider is large enough, it can be fried and eaten as a delicacy (but that's in Cambodia.) I don't think we'll be seeing any Deep-Fried Spider booths at the Fall Festival this weekend. At least I hope not.
Well, I just read that according to an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute, there is always a spider within 3 feet of you, including now...

I'm getting out of here.

Georgia Drought is an Annual Event--What Can You Do About It?

Delosperma nubigenum
As our climate here in Georgia becomes more hot and dry, it is important to make wise choices when considering plants for the garden. Inadequate rainfall again this summer caused many of our newly planted garden additions to die. 

If you don't want to be faced with those same results again every single year, consider plants that actually enjoy hot, dry growing conditions. My husband jokingly states that we live in the 'Desert Southeast.' Well, there really seems to be a lot of truth to that new nickname, so we've added several plants to our garden that originate in the desert southwestern US. Plants from that region are accustomed to hot, dry climates with poor soil, and most will adapt well to our climate here. 

Southwestern native plants need well-drained soil, though, and for the most part, Georgia soil is heavy clay. Some soil improvements will be necessary to help those plants survive here. 

Now, bear with me for a moment--I know you're thinking I'm about to suggest you install a cactus garden, but I'm not. Most of the time when we think of the gardens of Arizona, we think only of cactus and yucca, but there's more out there than that. I've compiled a list of garden worthy plants that deserve consideration for Georgia gardens, along with photos to show you how beautiful they are. By the way, some of these recommendations are actually native to the Southeast!
    Delosperma cooperi
  • Delosperma comes in several varieties with different foliage and bloom color, but my favorite Ice Plants are cooperi and nubigenum. Delosperma cooperi has rather large purple flowers resembling asters on a ground-hugging succulent plant. Delosperma nubigenum (shown in the top photo) has sunny yellow flowers resembling daisies on a very low-growing succulent with jelly-bean shaped leaves that turn red with the onset of cold weather.
  • Gaillardia: Blanket Flower
  • Gaillardia, often referred to as Blanket Flower or Indian Blanket, has blooms all summer long that, as the nickname implies, have all the colors of an Indian Blanket. The blooms are quite large and bright, visible from a distance, making this plant ideal for roadside gardens. Some even have ruffly or double petals!
  • Rudbeckia (Black eyed Susan) and Echinacea (Coneflower) are probably already in your garden, but seek out some of the new colors which are hard to find but unusually beautiful.
  • Pink Muhly Grass
  • Ornamental grasses will provide movement in the garden as well as foliage contrast. The blooms which are usually in the form of a plume or seed head offer additional beauty at the end of the season and also food for some of our native birds! An unusual native grass we grow in our garden, Muhlenbergia capillaris or Pink Muhly Grass, goes unnoticed all year until September when billows of pink cotton candy appear above the foliage--simply spectacular!
  • Bulbs tend to be more drought tolerant, so if a native plant forms a bulb, you can usually count on it surviving a drought and returning when more favorable conditions return. One of my favorites is a California native plant, Dichelostemma, commonly referred to as Firecracker plant. This plant is available in either red or pink blooms and likes dry summers! Other drought-tolerant native bulbs are Solomon's Seal and Rain Lilies. Zephyranthes candida sends up lovely white blooms usually right after a good rain shower, which is the reason for its common name.
  • Amsonia is a native perennial that really looks like a grass to me. In early summer blue flowers are lovely, but in my opinion this plant is most beautiful in fall when the foliage turns the brightest of gold.
  • Baptisia also has many seasons of beauty--soft blue-tinted foliage appears in spring, vivid blue flowers are next, then large seed capsules that turn black in late summer. Wow!
  • Crossvine: Bignonia capreolata
  • Vines are needed in every garden for that vertical interest, and my absolute favorite of all is the very drought tolerant Cross Vine, Bignonia capreolata. Not to be confused with the also beautiful Trumpet Vine which can be invasive if not controlled, the Cross Vine is much easier to manage. And instead of just plain orange blooms, Bignonia has blooms that resemble a flame--yellow, orange, and pinkish red all on the same flower! Shaped like a trumpet, the blooms are a favorite of the hummingbirds here.
  • I wouldn't be discussing native plants if I didn't mention my very favorite native tree, the Red Buckeye. Unlike other buckeyes, the Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, grows well in dry soil. The huge red bloom panicles appear in very early spring even before the leaves, and provide food for the hummingbirds just as they are returning from their winter vacation.
    Red Buckeye: Aesculus pavia
    These plants tolerate our winters as well as our hot, humid summers, as long as the soil is well-drained. So as you plan for new additions to your garden this year, remember there will always be a summer drought and plant some of our beautiful native American plants that are even more accustomed to the heat than we are!

Lycoris Radiata: Spider Lily or Hurricane Lily

We all forget about the Spider Lily until the blooms arise to surprise us with their bright red spidery petals. This time of year our nursery receives numerous inquiries as to why we don't have these bulbs in stock. Unfortunately, September is not the time to plant Lycoris radiata. 

Just as you wouldn't plant daffodils or tulips in the spring, Lycoris radiata cannot be planted in the fall during their bloom time. All flowering bulbs should be planted when dormant, and for Lycoris radiata, that optimum planting time is early summer. 

To help you understand, let me tell you a little about the life cycle of the Spider Lily.  One common name for Lycoris radiata is easy to understand--the petals have a spidery appearance, so many of us know this plant as the Spider Lily. But another common name, Hurricane Lily, was given to this bulb because of its surprise appearance in the middle of hurricane season. Lycoris radiata lies dormant all summer, during the heat and drought of July and August. Then in September, often right after a period of heavy rainfall, the stems shoot up seemingly overnight with a bright red spidery bloom at the top (no foliage!) Blooms last up to a month before fading. As the bloom begins to fade, grassy foliage begins to emerge. This foliage looks a lot like liriope. Don't cut it back. The grassy leaves must be allowed to remain all fall and winter to take in energy from the sun in preparation for multiplying and blooming next year. 

Once the plant begins to send up the blooming stem, Lycoris bulbs should not be disturbed. If transplanted at this time, blooming and growth could be disrupted for next time.  

If you like this unusual flower for your garden, make a note on your calendar right now to remind you to look for Lycoris bulbs in June.  You probably won't find Lycoris radiata at your local super center, but they are available from several online sources, including Shady Gardens Nursery. June and July are the best time for planting these bulbs so ordering can usually be done as early as May.

Trout Lily, Dog Tooth Violet: Wildflower for the Woodland Garden

Erythronium is a native woodland plant with some interesting common names: Trout Lily, Fawn Lily, and Dog Tooth Violet.

The bulb is shaped like a dog's tooth, hence the common name Dog Tooth Violet. Apparently the common names Trout Lily and Fawn Lily make reference to the spots on the foliage.

Erythronium is native to the western US--an easy to grow bulbous perennial for the native plant garden. Quite rare, this plant would be a nice find for your shade garden.

The beautiful blooms are elegant and very unusual 6-petaled flowers on tall stems held high above the foliage. Blooms appear in mid to late spring. The leaves are just as beautiful as the flowers, in my opinion. The foliage forms clumps of glossy foliage with attractive bronze mottling.

Erythronium dens canis is my favorite with beautiful speckled foliage and blooms that are rose pink to purple.

Erythronium dens canis
Erythronium White Beauty is also striking with its large white blooms having brown basal spots and foliage with white and brown veins to match the blooms.

Erythronium tuolumnense shows off with bright yellow blooms that have a green center. Leaves on this one are a soft solid green (no mottling.)

Erythronium must be planted in early fall to give the bulbs plenty of time to establish and grow in preparation for spring bloom. It requires moisture-retentive, fertile soil such as is found in woodland conditions. Erythronium should receive regular water, especially in spring when leaves are emerging, but less in late summer into fall as the plant prepares for winter dormancy.

Trout Lily can be grown just about anywhere in the United States, since it is hardy in USDA Zones 3-8.

No matter which common name you prefer to call this unusual plant, you'll love it planted at the base of a large tree or in a shady rock garden.

Garden Planting Zone

What planting zone are we in? Often the hardiness zone  in which a particular plant will grow appears on the plant tag, so this is important information you need to know.

I’ve always planted as though we’re in USDA Zone 8, although many of my master gardener friends have told me we’re in zone 7. Our garden does have a sheltered location. We probably have a microclimate since our property slopes to the south, providing our plants with protection from those cold north winter winds.

But what zone are we truly in? Drastic changes in average low temperatures over the last several years have caused many to believe the USDA Hardiness Zone map is out of date. The last update occurred in 1990. A new map was proposed in 2003, but rejected. The National Arbor Day Foundation decided to go ahead and update their map anyway, and it’s worth taking a look at. They used data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to formulate the new map. According to them, the changes in average low temperatures have changed so much that planting zones would change by as much as two zones!

I’ve noticed for years that several of my "houseplants" return each summer in our shade garden. Among them are spider plant, split-leaf philodendron, and butterfly plant.

Well, anyway, according to the new Arbor Day Foundation hardiness zone map, we’re now in Zone 8!

You can take a look at the map yourself, by going to Arbor Day Foundation. This new information gives us many more plant choices for our garden!

Planarian: Eater of Earthworms and Enemy of the Garden

When rearranging containers at the greenhouse recently, I ran across something unusually icky--a planarian. 

Land Planarian
Planaria are non-parasitic flatworms existing in most parts of the world. Some live in ponds, while others are terrestrial and can be found under flower pots or in other moist places. You've probably seen a planarian before, but might have mistaken it for a slimier than usual earthworm. 

A land planarian is long, flat, and either gray or brown with several black stripes running the length of the body. A planarian can be extremely long. I have seem them almost a foot in length. And, once again, this creature is not native to Georgia, but is thought to be originally from China. 

Planarians have been found in the United States since about 1901. Planarians just love greenhouses, because they provide everything a planarian needs to survive: moisture, humidity, and something to eat. Planarians appear to be dispersed with plants--we might unknowingly bring one home  in a plant we purchased. 

Planarians have a mouth that also serves as an anus. How gross is that?! 

Where might you find a planarian? They like places that are dark and moist, so look beneath container plants, boards, or rocks. If you're lucky enough to experience a heavy rain, they might even be seen on the soil surface, especially under shrubs. If you have a worm bed, look for a planarian attached to an earthworm.

High humidity is vital to the survival of a planarian, and they are seen most often in spring and fall. 

Planarians move about by gliding on a stream of mucus, and if they find themselves up on the leaves of a plant, they can lower themselves using a stream of that mucus. Yuk! They leave a shiny slime trail like that of a snail. You might be thinking, yes, this is grossly interesting, but what does all this have to do with gardening?

Planarians are cannibals and will eat each other. They will also eat slugs, which could be a help to the gardener. Perhaps this is the grossest fact yet--a planarian can even use some of its own tissue for food if necessary.

But what concerns me is that planarians eat earthworms! The earthworm is a gardener's good friend, and I want to protect all my earthworms. A planarian infestation is devastating to a worm bed and reportedly is capable of destroying the earthworm population of an entire farm. 

I won't describe how the planarian turns the earthworm into food, because that's even more yucky than what I've written so far. 

You should not try to destroy this pest by mashing it, since it will regrow from small parts of itself. So if you chop up a planarian, you'll be multiplying it. In the past I've just tossed them into the garbage can, but experts recommend melting them with a spray of orange oil.

Perennial Plant of the Year: Amsonia Hubrichtii, Blue Star

The Perennial Plant Association has already chosen the 2010 Perennial Plant of the year. Amsonia hubrichtii, often known as Blue Star, is native to the state of Arkansas, but grows well in most parts of the country.

Amsonia Hubrictii is at its best in Fall
Amsonia hubrichtii has very fine-textured foliage which makes it ideal for pairing with ornamental grasses.  

Clusters of blue flowers in May are lovely, but to me this plant comes alive in fall. I'm crazy about the bright golden color that develops with the onset of cooler weather. 

The fact that this plant grows well in both full sun or part shade makes it an easy choice for just about every garden. Like most native plants, Amsonia is drought tolerant once established. 

Probably another reason this perennial is so favored is its lack of problems with insects or disease. I have not noticed the deer munching on it either.

As you can see in the above photo, when massed in groups of 5 or more, Amsonia hubrichtii makes quite a show.

Hot Georgia Summer in my Garden Part 2: Some Plants Look Great!

Recently I complained of plants wilting in this hot Georgia summer with no rain. I promised to let you know when I find some native plants who have held up to this heat with no wilting so far. We have still received no rain, and there isn't really any rain in the forecast. I decided to check only in areas that I know have received no supplemental water - only rainfall. (Rain...what is rain?)

Passiflora Incarnata - Passion Vine
The following native plants look surprisingly beautiful in spite of temperatures in the upper 90's and no rain:
  • Passiflora - Passion vine or Maypop
  • Lonicera fragrantissima - Winter Honeysuckle
  • Redbud
  • Arizona Cypress
  • Agave
  • Blueberries (established plants that were planted a few years ago)
Oakleaf Hydrangea at Callaway Gardens
With some plants, wilting or not depends on the site--those in shade look great but the ones receiving some direct Georgia sun are wilted pitifully:
  • Callicarpa americana - American Beautyberry
  • Hydrangea quercifolia - Oakleaf Hydrangea
  • American Holly
In recent years, mainly due to the drought that has lingered here in Georgia, I have been planting in my garden more species native to the Southwest. Arizona Cypress and Agave are two plants that are not native to our area but grow beautifully here with absolutely no supplemental water. 

Arizona Cypress looks this good this in every season!
If you're in an area where watering restrictions keep you from planting in your garden, consider looking for some of the plants I've mentioned. They will not disappoint you!

Hot Georgia Summer Takes a Toll on my Garden

For the last several weeks, temperatures have reached 98 or above each afternoon, and with, most of the time, not a cloud in the sky! This climate can sure take a toll on garden plants--even those famous for loving hot, dry sun. In the last week I've noticed that even the butterfly bushes and lantana have wilted in the afternoon heat. That observation prompted me to get my ice water and take a walk through the garden looking for the tough guys. I thought I'd share with you my findings.

Plants not wilted in my garden today:
  • Arizona Cypress
  • Bamboo (where did that come from?!)
  • Cactus (if that ever wilts, I'll quit gardening!)
  • Eucalyptus
  • Holly
  • Hosta
  • Loropetalum
  • Mahonia
  • Redbud
  • Rosemary
  • Spirea
  • Yucca (lol, you know that will never wilt!)

The plants mentioned above are in parts of the garden not irrigated. The only water they receive is what falls from heaven. As a native plant pusher, I was appalled to see that most of the non-wilted varieties are from foreign lands! It pains me to say that, but I will ponder on it, figuring that perhaps I need to do some research. This part of the country has been prone to heat and drought way longer than I've been gardening. Native plants have learned to deal with this weather much better than I have. So I'll be stepping out in the heat to tour some local gardens I know to be native plant sanctuaries. I'll have my notepad in hand, and I'll let you know what I find.

Hummingbirds Love Native Plants

Everyone loves hummingbirds! As a nursery owner, I'm frequently asked for plant suggestions to attract hummingbirds into the garden. Hummingbirds, like other birds, look for food, water, and a safe nesting area when searching for a place to hang out. A good nectar source is very important. I prefer to provide nectar in the form of live plants, since they require less maintenance than a hanging feeder. When I think of plants to attract hummingbirds, these flowering vines are the first that come to mind.

Campsis radicans, Trumpet Vine, or Trumpet Creeper is a very vigorous vine with reddish orange trumpet-shaped blooms all summer long. Hummingbirds adore this vine, but plant with care--Trumpet Vine will take over an area quickly. Best planted away from the house and on a very sturdy trellis or arbor where it's beauty can be enjoyed without fear of wearing out its welcome. Still, you'll need to keep your pruners sharp. Watching the hummingbirds chatter and fly around it is well worth the maintenance to me.

Campsis radicans

Bignonia Capreolata, more commonly referred to as Crossvine, is a less invasive but equally beautiful native flowering vine. While Trumpet Vine is seen in profusion along roadsides in the south during the summer, you'll be lucky to find Crossvine growing freely. Bignonia is in the same family as Campsis, but has a much better behaved and easier to control habit. Blooms are large and trumpet shaped and bloom color can be anywhere from brownish orange to vibrant orange to a deep pinkish red. If your gardening tastes lean more to the exotic and unusual, this plant is for you.

Bignonia capreolata on the Arbor

Lonicera sempervirens usually goes by the name of Red Trumpet Honeysuckle or Coral Honeysuckle because the blooms are a vibrant coral red. John Clayton is a yellow-flowering form found growing in Virginia. Lonicera sempervirens is a vigorous yet non-invasive flowering native vine that hummingbirds love. Evergreen in most of the Southern states, Lonicera sempervirens blooms almost year round. I've seen blooms on ours in December here at Shady Gardens in west central Georgia.

Lonicera sempervirens on the Fence
Flowering vines are an important part of every garden, and the addition of a vine is an important layer for small gardens. In addition, these vines can be grown in containers and added to patio or balcony gardens. Next time you consider a vine for your garden, I hope you'll choose a native plant rather than an invasive exotic one. As you can see by the photos above, imported vines could not possibly be more beautiful than some of our own native flowering vines!

Georgia Drought is Here Again!

After a spring with plenty of rainfall, summer has definitely been summer here in Georgia! One of the Red Buckeye Trees in our garden has lost every single leaf! It is still living however. Many of our native plants are accustomed to this annual drought to which the southeast is prone. Leaf loss can be simply a survival tactic--plants will defoliate and sort of hibernate when conditions become too difficult and will spring back to life when moisture levels and temperatures are more to their liking. Some plants will actually put on a whole new crop of leaves in September. If plants in your garden appear to be dead, you can check for signs of life by simply scratching the bark with your fingernail. If you see green, your plant is still alive!

Clethra Attracts Hummingbirds and Butterflies to the Garden in Summer

If you're lucky enough to have a moist spot in your garden, consider Clethra alnifolia. Clethra is also known as Summer Sweet or Sweet Pepper Bush.

Blooming in the middle of the hot summer is enough reason to name it Summer Sweet, but I think that common name derives from either the sweet fragrance or the sweetness of the nectar. Butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators love it as much as you will, and they'll appreciate you for planting it in your garden.

Once the blooms fade, dark black seeds are visible on the tips of the stems, hence the other common name Sweet Pepper Bush.

There's a Clethra suitable for just about every garden, since a variety of types are available.

  • Ruby Spice has rosey pink blooms on a large growing shrub up to 10 feet tall.
  • Hummingbird has white blooms on a more compact plant around 3 feet tall. This is the one seen growing around Hummingbird Lake at Callaway Gardens.
  • Sixteen Candles 6 inch long white flowers on a tidy shrub about 4 feet tall.

All Clethra varieties are very fragrant, reminding me of fresh honey.

Clethra is easy to grow, but does need regular water. Perfect around a pond or stream, but you can grow it right in your garden as long as you can water it weekly.

Clethra grows well anywhere in USDA Zones 4-9.

An added bonus is that Clethra displays lovely yellow foliage in fall! 

For Clethra plants by mail, go to Shady Gardens Nursery.

Humane No Kill Mousetrap: Mice Cube Safe around Children and Pets

Our concern for animal welfare is apparent upon visiting our garden. Most of our pets were just dropped off here and we let them stay. Even critters often thought of as a nuisance are welcomed here to a degree. My husband, normally thought of as a tough guy policeman type, has been teased for being too tenderhearted toward mice and spiders, and has many times caught them indoors, carried them out to the briars, and let them go safely on their way.

Several months ago, mice became a problem in the greenhouse. Small little field mice can do much damage quickly, munching on simply everything! One would think mice would not be a problem here with 3 cats! But then it's hard for them to catch mice 
during their sleep.

That's when I discovered the Mice Cube. I couldn't believe how well it worked! And it's chemical free! 
The Mice Cube is a small clear plastic rectangular container with a trap door on one end. The mouse can enter to eat the bait, but cannot exit, since the door opens inward only. Our bait is a cheezit with peanut butter spread on one side. Within just a few hours we had caught a little guy who we safely deposited at the fence. The next morning we found 2 little mice inside.

The only problem we've seen with the Mice Cube is the cats--If one of them gets to it before we do, they let the mouse out, and then we have to catch it again!

To find out how you can purchase Mice Cube, click here.

Hibiscus: Choose Native for an Easy, Beautiful, Low Maintenance Garden

Every summer many, many people purchase the Tropical Hibiscus to place on their patio, porch, or around their pool. While it is true that the Tropical Hibiscus is beautiful and really does lend a tropical look to the garden, it will die to the ground with the first frost unless you live in the sub-tropical states. And if you've ever tried overwintering one indoors, you know how difficult that can be!

Instead, consider our American Native Hibiscus varieties. There are several, and in my opinion they are much more beautiful than the Tropical Hibiscus. Our native hibiscus is an herbaceous perennial plant that grows to shrub size each summer.

Hibiscus coccineus has bright red star-shaped blooms all summer on tall stems. This native hibiscus is known by many common names, among which are Texas Star Hibiscus, Swamp Hibiscus, and Swamp Mallow. The Swamp Hibiscus loves consistently moist soil but grows well in my garden with only a weekly watering. Hibiscus coccineus is beautiful even when not in bloom, having reddish-tinged green leaves shaped like maple leaves. Some visitors have claimed it looks like marijuana, but I can't say for sure, since I've never seen a marijuana plant. Perhaps they're telling on themselves! What do you think?
Hibiscus coccineus at Shady Gardens Nursery

'Very spectacular' is the best description for Hibiscus moscheutos or Swamp Mallow. Blooms are the size of a dinnerplate! See for yourself:
Hibiscus moscheutos growing alongside Rudbeckia Goldsturm

Hybridizers have developed many types and colors, but all are beautiful and any one would be a show piece in your garden.

The native hibiscus is so easy to grow that it would be a shame not to have one in your garden. Hibiscus coccineus is hardy as cold as USDA Zone 6 and Hibiscus moscheutos is happy in even colder temperatures found in USDA Zone 4! Wow! They are deciduous plants but will return in May each year with no special care.

For more information on availability of the hardy native hibiscus, contact us anytime at Shady Gardens Nursery.

Alabama State Wildflower: Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea
I am glad to learn that my favorite native shrub, the Oakleaf Hydrangea, is the State Wildflower of Alabama. Since I was raised in Alabama and we now live in Georgia very close to the Alabama state line, I am naturally drawn to plants native to Alabama.

The Oakleaf Hydrangea is very easy to grow, tolerating a wide variety of conditions. This deciduous shrub is native to the southeastern United States.

Hydrangea quercifolia gets its common name of Oakleaf Hydrangea from the large leaves shaped like those of our mighty oak tree. Deciduous foliage turns red in autumn and later falls from the plant but can hang on for quite a while when grown in shade during a mild winter. Once foliage falls from the plant, cinnamon colored exfoliating bark adds to its beauty.

Large blooms appearing in panicles in May and June last all season. Blooms begin white in color but change gradually to a rosey pink or purple and finally age to a soft brown persisting into the winter. Blooms are also quite long lasting as a cut flower.

The Oakleaf Hydrangea will grow large and can reach a size of about 8 feet tall and just as wide. 

This deciduous shrub is not picky about soil, even tolerating heavy clay, but grows best in well-drained soil with moderate moisture. The Oakleaf Hydrangea is very drought tolerant once established and was the only hydrangea that bloomed in our garden during the severe drought of 2008 and 2009.

Hydrangea quercifolia can be found growing wild in all areas of Alabama, making it the ideal choice for the official wildflower of the state of Alabama.

State Wildflower of Georgia: Native Azalea

Since 1979, the native azalea has been the official state wildflower of Georgia. A certain variety was not chosen since several different species occur naturally in every county in Georgia.

Native azaleas are a member of the rhododendron family and are deciduous shrubs. Most varieties of these wild azaleas have highly fragrant blooms. Bloom color is spectacularly diverse and can be white, pink, yellow, orange, red, or any combination of those colors. With several species planted, you can have blooms in your garden from March all the way through August. 

These wild azaleas naturally occur in the woods, but they will often flower much more profusely when planted in full sun. Some species cannot take direct sunlight, but most varieties can tolerate morning sun or filtered sun beneath tall deciduous hardwood trees.  Beneath large oak trees is an ideal location for native azaleas, since the fallen oak leaves contribute to an acid soil favored by all azaleas.

Native rhododendrons will become more drought tolerant once established, but water regularly the first few years. 

Well-drained soil is necessary for the survival of all azaleas, but Rhododendron viscosum, commonly referred to as the Swamp Azalea, can grow in wetter soil where it will receive ample water to grow large and full.

Rhododendron viscosum

The early spring blooming native azaleas form their bloom buds in late summer, right when Georgia is usually experiencing a drought. To insure that you have fragrant blooms to enjoy in March and April, water your azaleas weekly during August and September unless it is raining regularly. 

A very popular native azalea species is Rhododendron Austrinum, the Florida Flame Azalea.  The Florida Azalea is prized for its colorful fragrant blooms appearing in early March. This is one of the easiest wild azaleas to grow, since it tolerates heat and drought once established. 

Rhodendron austrinum

If pink is your color, you have more than one choice. Most often seen in the woods of Georgia is the Piedmont Azalea, Rhododendron canescens. This wild azalea is also easy to grow and will eventually become a large specimen. Bloom color on this one can actually vary on individual plants though, and you might end up with flowers that are more white than pink.

That is also true of Rhododendron colemanii, the Red Hills Azalea. Native to the Red Hills of Alabama, this azalea can also be found growing wild near the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. Blooms on this one can be white, pink, yellow, or orange. 

As you can see in the photo above, the Red Hills Azalea can have both yellow and pink on the same plant. If you prefer a pink bloomer on either the Piedmont or the Red Hills Azalea,  choose your plants in spring when they are in bloom.

For a white garden, you have several choices. In addition to the Swamp Azalea, you might choose either the Sweet Azalea or the Alabama Azalea for fragrant white flowers. Rhododendron arborescens is often considered to have the loveliest flowers of all. Solid white blooms are deliciously fragrant, which is probably the reason for its common name of Sweet Azalea. 

The Alabama Azalea, Rhododendron alabamense, can be found growing in Georgia as well. White blooms with a bright yellow blotch smell like lemons. This wild azalea is very drought tolerant once established, making itself at home on dry rocky slopes in Alabama and Georgia. Even if summer drought kills the topgrowth, this shrub will usually send up new stems from the roots the next spring.

Alabama Azalea

One of the more difficult to grow native azaleas is also one of the most beautiful. Made famous by Callaway Gardens is the red blooming Plumleaf Azalea, Rhododendron Prunifolium. This plant occurs naturally only in a few counties in Georgia and Alabama in the Chattahoochee River Valley. Blooms are a vivid red or orange red. The Plumleaf Azalea needs a spot in the garden more shaded and cool. Rhododendron prunifolium wants no direct sunlight whatsoever. Don't forget to water this one during periods of drought or you'll lose it. 

Rhododendron Prunifolium, Plumleaf Azalea

The most common problem with growing native azaleas is actually finding some available for sale in the first place.  Most varieties of wild azaleas are either protected or endangered, so it is unlawful to dig them from the wild for transplanting in your garden. Online nurseries are a great source for native plants of all kinds, including native azaleas. A good selection of these fragrant native azaleas and many other native plants can be found at Shady Gardens Nursery.

Getting the Garden Ready for a Hot Georgia Summer

Gaillardia at Shady Gardens Nursery
Getting the garden ready for a hot Georgia summer can be easier than you think! 
Plant selection is most important—choose plants you know will thrive in your area. Planting trees, shrubs, and perennials native to your climate zone means less work for you, because native plants are accustomed to the difficult conditions our Georgia summers offer. They are better able to withstand our drought, and some native plants even prefer our muggy, humid temperatures! 
Always amend the soil with compost or composted manure. Plants are better able to tolerate harsh conditions when they have good soil to live in. 
Don’t overlook the importance of mulch.  Apply a thick layer of organic mulch such as straw, bark chips, or shredded leaves to conserve moisture, keep the plant roots cool, and prevent weed growth. Gravel mulch is not suitable for our climate, except in a cactus garden, because it heats up too much in the summer. 
Finally, if your budget allows, install a soaker hose or drip irrigation watering system. This will get the water down to the roots where it’s needed with less water waste.

Troup County Master Gardener Plant Sale LaGrange Georgia

The Master Gardeners of Troup County will host their annual plant sale on Saturday, April 24, 2010, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Agricultural Building in LaGrange. The Agricultural Building is located conveniently near I-85 at the intersection of U.S. Highway 27 and Vulcan Materials Road.

This year, the Plant Sale will include many, many unusual plants featuring drought tolerant and native species as well as vegetable plants and exotics. Also available this time will be some unusual non-plant items such as hypertufa planters, hand-decorated garden chairs, and many other garden-themed decorative items.

There will be a plant swap table as well, so visitors can take plants from their gardens to swap for plants they'd like to have.

Auctions will be held throughout the day beginning at 9:45 a.m, where you can bid on some of these unique garden items.

Master Gardeners will be on hand all day to answer your gardening questions.

Proceeds from this sale will benefit projects in the community including the purchase of horticulture books for the library, scholarships for horticulture students, and a Christmas tree for Hospice.

The Troup County Master Gardener Association is an extension of the University of Georgia School of Agriculture and the County Extension Agency. Master Gardeners all over the state work closely with local extension agents in providing service and education throughout their counties. Many Master Gardeners help teach children how to grow their own food while others participate in community beautification projects such as landscaping. Master Gardeners are available for home visits as well to help with your gardening problems.

For more information, contact the Troup County Extension Office at 706-883-1675.

Earth Day April 22, 2010

Earth Day is April 22. 2010 is the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, so this year Earth Day should be celebrated in a special way.

The best way to celebrate Earth Day is to get your children outside to enjoy the great outdoors. It is important to teach our children the value of our precious environment and how to be good stewards and protect all our resources.

Here are some ideas:
  • Go to your nearest public park and pick up litter. Okay, I know that's not fun. Perhaps you should do one of these other things first, and then pick up litter before you leave.
  • Take a hike. Look for wild flowers (don't pick them though!) and signs of wildlife--birds nests and squirrels nests are sometimes easy to spot.
  • Plant a garden in your own backyard. Children will enjoy growing their own food and flowers. Tomatoes, peppers, and squash are easy to grow. Purchase plants just about anywhere this time of year. Then plant a row of zinnia seeds which will come up quickly and help to attract pollinators to your new vegetable bed.
Planting Vegetables

    Carolina Jasmine:

    Sunny yellow blooms on the Carolina Jasmine tell me spring is on its way!

    Also known as Carolina Jessamine or Gelsemium sempervirens, this native vine is not invasive and can even be allowed to climb into trees with no harm to the tree.

    Blooming late winter through early spring, Carolina Jasmine makes a great groundcover for preventing erosion.

    This evergreen vine is not tasty to deer, making it a good choice for the native plant garden.

    Although the blooms are not very fragrant, the flower show more than makes up for it.

    Plant Sale Benefit for Food Bank of East Alabama

    Just one area of plants for sale at the Plant Sale 2009
    The Plant Sale Benefit for the Food Bank of East Alabama will be Sunday, April 18, 2010. All proceeds go directly to the Food Bank. The Food Bank of East Alabama has been providing groceries to needy families in the Opelika-Auburn area since 1993.

    More than 300 different plant varieties will be available. You can pick from a large selection of annuals, bedding plants, herbs, perennials, shrubs, native plants, and even trees.

    This is the 9th year these gardeners have held this particular sale. I was tickled to go last year for the first time. I must say I was caught off guard with the large number of varieties of plants and the prices. Both my children had to help me carry plants. They enjoyed helping me pick out new plants for our garden. Unfortunately I could only fit so many plants in the car and still be able to take my children home with me, so I finally had to leave. This year, I plan to go more prepared with a larger vehicle.

    Plants I saw last time were healthy, well-cared for, and ready to go directly into the garden. The selection was so large that it was difficult to narrow down my purchases enough to fit in my small trunk.

    In addition to the many lovely plants offered at more than reasonable prices, gardening experts will be available to answer any questions you might have.

    If you can be in the Auburn, Alabama, area on April 18, 2010, you will not want to miss this plant sale. I know I can't wait! For more information and directions, go to Gardener's Plant Sale.

    Mahonia: Bright Yellow Blooms for the Shade Garden

    Mahonia is my favorite non native plant. After the cold wet winter we've had, I'm excited to see the first blooms in our garden, and each year they appear on the Mahonia first.

    Mahonia is an evergreen shrubby plant from Asia. Often referred to as Leatherleaf, this plant has tough green leaves with spines.

    Bright yellow blooms appear in winter as early as January, but this year the blooms didn't open until March due to our prolonged winter weather. Blue black drupes appear in clusters like grapes in spring, lending the common name of Grape Holly.

    Mahonia is very easy to grow in the Southern United States, since it is hardy in USDA Zones 7-9. This evergreen plant prefers shade and well-drained soil. Bloom is not prevented even in the deepest shade. Very drought tolerant once established, Mahonia is an excellent choice for a dry shade garden. 
    The growth habit of mahonia makes it a striking architectural feature for foundation planting as well. 

    Leatherleaf Mahonia is available online from Shady Gardens Nursery.

    National Wildlife Week March 15

    National Wildlife Week is March 15-21, 2010. This is a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with the children in your life and teach them of the importance of preserving our wildlife.

    We should all be good stewards of the world we live in. That means many things. Almost everything we do can have an impact on wildlife and our world. This may be as simple as disposing of your trash in a garbage receptacle instead of throwing it on the ground.

    The best way to teach a child about wildlife is to take him where he can view what goes on in the world around us. You can do that right in your own yard where he can learn just by looking out the window. If you live in an apartment, the task will be a little more challenging, but it can still be done, provided you have a window and a balcony.

    Encouraging wildlife to visit your garden is not all that difficult. Begin with birds and butterflies. Start by hanging a bird feeder where it can be easily filled with bird seed which can be purchased at almost any grocery or discount store. You'll be surprised at how quickly the birds will discover this easy dinner.

    In our next installment I'll offer tips on planting a wildlife garden.

    Grow Your Own Food

    In recent years I have become increasingly concerned about what's in the food I feed my children. Everywhere I turn, I am reading or hearing news of preservatives, pesticides, and various other unknown food additives. Additionally, how many times have we heard in the news of food recalls due to salmonella or e. coli contamination? Many! It's very frightening.

    I have tried purchasing more organic or kosher foods, but they are expensive. I do think it's worth it, but sometimes it seems I just can't afford those more costly choices. So what's the solution?

    Grow your own, of course.

    One of the most important foods to grow at home I think is leafy greens. I remember numerous recalls on spinach due to salmonella contamination. Lettuce is difficult to grow here in Georgia, but we can grow other salad greens. At various times of the year, we're growing cabbage, collards, kale, mustard, turnip greens, spinach, and swiss chard.

    Berries are a special concern since they absorb whatever is sprayed on or around them. I worry that pesticides won't completely wash off. And I do remember more than one recall on strawberries due to contamination. Strawberries are difficult to grow at home, although it is worth the trouble. Blueberries are easy to grow and have few if any pests. Really the only difficult thing about growing blueberries is keeping the birds from eating them before you do. For more information on growing blueberries, read Blueberry Growing Tips for a Georgia Garden.

    Many vegetables can be grown in a small garden. Just a few squash plants can yield more squash than our family of four can eat. This year, we have a freezer, so extra food will not go to waste. A favorite of my children is the sugar snap pea. Pods can be picked right off the plant and eaten whole, making them a great snack for small children. Sugar peas, as my babies call them, can be planted in March here in Georgia. Look for the seeds at home improvement stores or even your local dollar store.

    I did read that it's unnecessary to pay more for organic citrus, since citrus requires no preservatives. That's good news, since we don't live in South Florida.

    Baptisia Australis False Blue Indigo: 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year

    Baptisia Australis, otherwise known as False Blue Indigo, has been named Perennial Plant of the Year for 2010. This award is much deserved. Baptisia is one of the easiest plants of all to grow, and it's a native!

    The blue-gray foliage of Baptisia Australis is lovely all season, but this plant has many wonderful features. Leaves are trifoliate, reminding me of clover. The plant is upright, for the most part, and doesn't require staking unless it's getting too much shade. Since Baptisia australis grows up to four feet tall, plant it behind shorter perennials.

    Blue violet pea-like blooms stand well above the foliage, providing a tall backdrop for lower growing plants. The bloom stems can be up to 12 inches tall, so Baptisia is an excellent cut flower. Blooms last up to a month on the plant, but are also long-lasting in a vase where they can be enjoyed up close. 

    Once blooms are spent, do not deadhead this plant or you'll miss the next show. By late summer, blooms have given way to showy black pods resembling peas. The black pods hanging on strong stems are lovely and make attractive additions to floral arrangements and wreaths for late summer. In addition, these pods are full of viable seeds which you can use to make more of these lovely plants for your garden and for your friends.

    This plant grows best with full sun and well-drained soil. Once established, Baptisia is very drought tolerant.

    This Perennial Plant of the Year can be grown just about anywhere with its broad range of growing zones, since it's hardy anywhere in USDA Zones 3-9. 

    For more on this plant, visit Shady Gardens Nursery.

    Arbor Day in Georgia February 19, 2010

    Arbor Day 2010 here in Georgia is today, Friday, February 19.

    Winter is by-far the best time for planting trees in Georgia. Each year our summer brings heat and drought, and trees planted during the winter have an easier time establishing themselves before the heat arrives.

    This year, it's more important than ever to enjoy doing things at home with the family. Poor economy has made expensive outings impossible for many families. Why not make lasting memories by planting a garden with your children? Let them help to select a tree, dig the hole, plant the tree, water it, and add mulch.

    To help insure your tree's survival, choose a native tree. Native trees will grow better in our area, since they're well accustomed to our Georgia climate.

    One native tree that is loved by children is the American Fringe Tree, Chionanthus virginicus. This tree is best known as the Grancy Graybeard, because in April, the tree is covered with blooms that look like white fluffy cotton or an old man's beard, as you can see in the above photo.

    Grancy Graybeard is easy to grow, adapting to a wide variety of conditions. Drought tolerant once established, the American Fringe Tree grows and blooms well in either full sun or partial shade. 

    No matter which tree you choose for your garden, why not make this a tradition and plant a tree on Arbor Day weekend each year. If you have no room in your own garden for another tree, consider planting one at a local church, school, or public park. And if possible, include a child in your tree planting, thereby teaching and protecting our environment for future generations.

    For more information on this splendid native tree or many others, visit Shady Gardens Nursery.

    June Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Oakleaf Hydrangea

    This time of year our garden is always bursting with blooms, but this year has been a little different. Due to a very mild winter, everythin...