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.

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...