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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.