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Wishing for that First Fall Frost

I can't help but look forward to that 1st frost of Fall. I'm embarrassed to admit that the weeds have truly overtaken my garden. What I intended to be a paradise of fragrant and colorful flowers has turned out to be a tangled mess of ugly vines and weedy plants with a few colorful beauties mixed in. The first frost will kill all the ugly things, for which I will be very grateful.


But also, that frost will make some plants better. Turnip and mustard greens are not really tasty until touched by that crisp first frost. Many of our shrubs and trees known for their vivid Fall colors will not color up until nights turn cold.
Itea Merlot in Fall


One of my favorite fall chores is riding the lawnmower around chopping up all the leaves before they are sucked up into the bagger. I then spread them out all over my planting beds. Winter rains (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they come!) will help the leaves to rot and break down, enriching the garden soil.

Cooler temperatures in the Fall are absolutely perfect for planting and transplanting. Perennials, trees, and shrubs establish much better when put in the ground right before winter. Down South where we are, the ground doesn't freeze, so plant roots continue to grow all winter while topgrowth takes a rest. During the winter, plants can get their roots down deep into the ground to reach water and nutrients before having to expend any energy growing new leaves, stems, and flowers.

But also, that frost will make some plants better. Turnip and mustard greens are not really tasty until touched by that crisp first frost. Many of our shrubs and trees known for their vivid Fall colors will not color up until nights turn cold.

Cooler temperatures make gardening more enjoyable. Last week, the outdoor temperature was 96 and the humidity was so high that our heat index was over 100 degrees, so everything I had to do out there was a real chore. This morning, the cool breeze reminds me of my favorite gardening weather. When temperatures are cool enough to wear long sleeves in the garden, I will think I'm in Heaven. There's just something about working in the garden when it's too cool to sweat that I just love.

While others might dread the cold weather, not me. Is it wrong for me to wish for that first frost of Fall? I don't think so.

Hydrangea arborescens: Wildlife Value of the Smooth Hydrangea

If you have seen the lovely Annabelle Hydrangea, you love her. Hardy, easy to grow, and beautiful in summer, Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' is probably the most versatile hydrangea you can grow in the garden.

Large voluptuous white blooms appear in early summer, despite the severity of your winter or any pruning that might have been done too late, because this hydrangea blooms on new growth. Additionally, Our native hydrangea arborescens, will bloom again in late summer if spent blooms are removed.

Hydrangea arborescens, also known as smooth hydrangea, is native to the Eastern United States. Annabelle is a selection known for its particularly large white blooms that can be up to 10 inches across.

Hydrangea Sphinx Moth
 photo from www.bugguide.net


You might already know the beautiful attributes of Hydrangea arborescens, but did you know Annabelle Hydrangea also has wildlife value? Here at Shady Gardens, we try to do all we can to encourage a diverse population of wildlife. Our garden is a sanctuary for birds, butterflies, insects, and mammals of all kinds. Hydrangea arborescens is a favorite host plant for Darapsa versicolor, which is also known as the Hydrangea Sphinx Moth. This Sphinx Moth pollinates the flowers on Hydrangea arborescens, then lays eggs on the leaves. 


Darapsa versicolor larva photo from www.bugguide.net








The Eggs develop into larvae which then feed on the leaves of the shrub. If you find a green caterpillar like the one shown here on the leaves of your Annabelle Hydrangea, you can count yourself blessed, because Darapsa versicolor is rarely seen.

Pink Annabelle Hydrangea at Shady Gardens Nursery



A pink-blooming form of Annabelle has been developed, so look for it at your local garden center or online.










(Hydrangea Sphinx Moth Photo credits: http://bugguide.net/node/view/411927, Nolie Schneider 2010 and Floyd Williams 2005.).


Groundcovers: An Important Part of a Southern Garden

I love groundcovers. There’s just something about them that makes me want to have every one I see. 

Groundcovers can be an important addition to our Southern gardens. They act as a living mulch, helping to conserve moisture around trees and shrubs.  

Many groundcovers are evergreen, so they add beauty to the garden in every season. There are groundcovers that bloom, and even groundcovers that make berries! 

Groundcovers can be found that thrive in sun, shade, and even the most difficult dry shade. 

Whether your taste for plants leans toward the exotic, like Hellebores and Rohdea, or if you prefer native plants, such as native ferns, consider adding them beneath the shrubs in your garden. 

There are many native groundcovers that are evergreen, and some even produce berries, like Mitchella (Partridgeberry). Groundcovers like creeping phlox can help control erosion. 

Ajuga Bronze Beauty
Good groundcovers for sun include the sedums, ice plant, and rudbeckia (Black eyed Susan.)  Certain rose varieties also make excellent groundcovers. 

Ajuga is a great groundcover for crowding out weeds in shade or partial shade. It is not invasive.

English Ivy Overtakes the Garden
Beware of groundcovers that can take over the garden, seeming to eat other plants alive, crowding out everything else. Instead of invasive English Ivy or the popular Japanese pachysandra, try our native pachysandra, Allegheny Spurge. Or if it’s a vine you’re after, plant Crossvine, Carolina Jasmine, or Red Trumpet Honeysuckle—all native vines that will not overtake your garden.  

Butterflies and Tips for a Butterfly Garden

Butterflies are probably everyone’s favorite garden creature. They are beautiful, mysterious, and romantic. It’s a goal of many gardeners to attract these lovely butterflies into the garden.

Butterflies need just 3 things: Water, a nectar source, and host plants on which to lay their eggs.

Water
All living creatures need water. The preferred source of water for butterflies is a mud puddle. This can be easily created by filling a large clay saucer with clean sand. Place this in a sunny spot in your butterfly garden and keep it moist at all times.

Butterfly on Buttonbush

Food Source - Nectar for Adult Butterflies
Nectar plants are the food source for adult butterflies. You’ll need Butterfly Bush of course, which is now available in many colors. Lantana can’t be beat for attracting butterflies. Clethra is a large-growing shrub that produces sweetly scented flower spikes up to 6 inches long in either pink or white and attracts butterflies by the hundreds. You'll enjoy the fragrance as well, which reminds me of fresh honey. Clethra, also known as Summersweet and Sweet Pepper Bush requires moist soil and full to partial sun. Joe Pye Weed comes in many forms. Helianthus is another late-blooming flower that butterflies love—it has large yellow sunflower-type blooms on tall stems. Of course all the beneficial insects, including butterflies, love Blackeyed Susan, Gaillardia (Blanketflower). In September, butterflies are attracted to Stonecrop (Sedums like Autumn Joy, Matrona, and Vera Jamison.) Dianthus flowers just about all summer, and butterflies are particularly attracted to this plant. You can fill in between bloom times of the perennials with annuals like cosmos, marigolds, and zinnias. 

Fennel is a Host Plant for Butterflies
Food Source for offspring (a place to lay eggs) - Host Plants 
Host plants are those on which butterflies lay their eggs. Yes, the larva will eat the plants, but without a place for the babies to grow into the beautiful adult butterfly, you can’t have the butterflies! So plant extra parsley, dill, fennel, and milkweed, so you can have plenty to share with the butterflies. An added bonus is that these plants also attract many other beneficial insects!
 
I did say that butterflies need just 3 things, however there is a 4th thing that is the most important of all: Never use pesticides in your garden. Using pesticides would kill the butterflies you are trying to attract. Use insecticidal soap instead.

Lightning Bugs, Fireflies: Beneficial Insects for the Garden

We call them lightning bugs, but in some parts of the country they’re known as fireflies. Whatever you call them, we all enjoy seeing them flitting around and lighting up on summer nights. 

Photinus pyralis image from focusingonwildlife.com
Many of us enjoyed catching them and placing them in a lidded jar on our nightstand when we went to bed at night, but did you know that lightning bugs are beneficial insects? 

Lightning bugs are actually beetles that have a soft outer shell instead of a hard one. Lightning bugs lay their eggs in soft mud. Maybe that’s why we have so many this year—if you’ve been out to our place, you’ve seen our mud! 

It’s the larvae that are so helpful to gardeners—eating pests like snails, slugs, cutworms, and other larval pests. The larvae are luminous as well, lighting up all the time, but turning off their light when disturbed. For this reason they’re called Glow-worms. 

Researchers are also studying lightning bugs because they contain two rare chemicals that are used to fight cancer, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, and heart disease. So next time you’re sitting outside enjoying a warm summer evening, think about the wonderful little lightning bugs and all the other benefits God is providing for us in nature!

Fragrant Swamp Azalea: Rhododendron viscosum


If you like fragrant plants, you'll want Rhododendron Viscosum in your garden! Most often referred to as Swamp Azalea, Rhododendron Viscosum is a native azalea found in the Eastern United States. Pure white blooms in early summer have a pleasing spicy scent reminiscent of cloves. 
Rhododendron viscosum in June

Swamp Azalea, as the name implies, is one of the few azaleas that can tolerate periodically wet soil. This plant can grow in regular garden soil, but it does not want to miss out on water. If you can water regularly when rainfall is absent, Swamp Azalea will be easy for you to grow in your garden. Grows into a very tall shrub when planted near a pond or stream. Swamp Azalea is the perfect native rhododendron for a rain garden.

Rhododendron Viscosum can be grown almost anywhere in the United States since it grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9. 

Swamp Azalea can be grown in full sun if regular water is available. Otherwise, filtered sun/shade is best.

Rare White Spider Lilies: Hymenocallis coronaria


This weekend we had the opportunity to visit a local property that is blessed with the very rare Hymenocallis coronaria. Most folks around here call them Shoal Spider Lilies, because they are growing in Flat Shoals Creek. In Alabama this plant is called Cahaba Lilies, named for the Cahaba River where they are growing. There are also some small colonies found growing in the Chattahoochee, Coosa, and Tallapoosa Rivers.


These lilies are a threatened native plant, found growing only in a few places in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. 
Flat Shoals Lilies, as I call them, bloom only once a year. The blooms last 2 or 3 weeks, depending on the weather. This year, they bloomed a little later than normal because our winter was so reluctant to leave.




Hymenocallis coronaria is in the amaryllis family of plants. Large white blooms about 3 inches wide are quite showy and held above tall stems. Foliage is strappy, like a lily.

The Shoal Lilies grow in full sun in the fast-moving water of rivers and large creeks.



The flowers attract a variety of pollinators but are especially enjoyed by the Pipevine Swallowtail.


As with most threatened and endangered species, these lilies are threatened because of us people. The damming of rivers has caused the greatest threat, but pollution of the rivers caused by development, logging, and mining as well as poaching have also played a part in the reduction of Shoal Lily populations. Poaching is when an individual takes a plant or animal and sells it or uses it to his own advantage without consideration for the actual animal or plant itself. When a plant is listed on the threatened or endangered list, one should not dig it to take to his own garden or sell to others. This practice is wrong, and I believe it is punishable by law.

Cherokee Rose: Georgia's State Flower


Probably because the Cherokee Rose is Georgia's State Flower, I am often asked if we grow it. Most have been disappointed or even shocked when I told them that we did not. 

Since it is Georgia's State Flower, one would assume the Cherokee Rose is native to Georgia, but this plant originally came from China. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Although our specialty is plants that are native to these parts, we grow many plants that are native to Asia. However, we do have to be careful with Asian plants, since many can be very invasive here (kudzu, honeysuckle, and wisteria), but that's a separate post.

If the Cherokee Rose is not native to this state, you might be wondering how in the world it became Georgia's State Flower. And furthermore, how did it come to be called the "Cherokee Rose"? There is an interesting legend behind that.

One of our nation's earliest nurserymen, Thomas Affleck, introduced Rosa laeveigata and sold it to landowners all over the South in the 1800's. Since that time, Rosa laeveigata has naturalized all over the state of Georgia. One of the saddest things in history to me is the removal of Cherokee families from their land in Georgia when they were forced to march on foot all the way to Oklahoma. This tragic relocation of the Cherokee became known as the "Trail of Tears." According to the legend, every time a tear hit the ground, a rose grew in its place. That rose was Rosa laeveigata, later to be called the Cherokee Rose.

In 1916, the Cherokee Rose was designated as the State Flower of Georgia with the support of the Georgia Federation of Women's Clubs. Often confused with Rosa bracteata, the McCartney Rose, the Cherokee Rose blooms in Spring and is not invasive.

The Cherokee Rose is a vigorous climbing rose with ferocious thorns, but can be pruned and grown as a hedge. Large white flowers with yellow centers cover the plant in March or April.

Having learned this interesting piece of history, we might decide to produce this beautiful rose after all. If for no other reason than to remind us of an important event in history that should never have happened. Nowadays it seems everyone has something to grumble about. Oh, "Woe is me," they seem to be saying. Well, imagine if you had been a Cherokee, back in 1838.

Look for us to have Rosa laeveigata in the future. Hopefully in the mean time, I can learn to spell it.

Bumble Bees are in Trouble Too!

We often hear about the decline of the honeybee due to overuse of pesticides, herbicides, loss of habitat, and Colony Collapse Disorder (a general term used to express the decline of the honeybee population due to bees leaving the hive to die for reasons we do not know.) But did you know our native bumblebees are in trouble too? Honeybees are not the only pollinator in trouble. Our native bumblebees have faced a sharp decline all across the United States. The loss of bumblebees would severely affect our nation's ecosystem, not to mention our farming system and our food supply.


Bumblebees love our Native Buttonbush,
Cephalanthus occidentalis
As a child I would sit on the back door step and watch bumblebees for an hour or more. The beautiful buzzing little bees just fascinated me. I think the reason there were so many bees there is because it was the only spot in the yard where lots of clover and other wildflowers grew. The bees loved it, and so did I. I enjoyed watching them, but I did not know then how important they are.

Bumblebees are more important to our environment than the non-native honeybees. Bumblebees pollinate native plants and wildflowers that produce seeds for birds and other wildlife. Bumblebees are the most important pollinators for many of the crops we depend on like blueberries and tomatoes. I just learned that farmers actually depend on bumblebees to pollinate crops grown in a greenhouse like peppers, strawberries, and tomatoes. Wow! That is fascinating.

According to the Xerces Society, several species of the North American Bumblebee are on the verge of extinction. The main cause of bumblebee decline is the overuse of pesticides which kill not only the bad insects but also pollinators like the bumblebee.

You might be thinking, "Yes, but what can I do about it?"

Well, first of all, don't use pesticides. Let nature take its course. If you don't spray pesticides on your grass, flowering plants, and shrubs, birds and good bugs like Lady Bugs will take care of the problem naturally.

Secondly, plant flowers. Any kind of flowers. Bumblebees are not picky--they will visit any and every flower available to them. So just plant what you like. Try to have flowers available for them in every season. Here in the mild climate of Georgia, bumblebees are out from late winter to late fall. I've even seen them buzzing around on a warm day in January when our Mahonia was in full bloom.

There might not be much you can do about some some problems occurring in our environment, but this is one area where your actions can definitely make an impact.

If you are interested in trying to identify which kind of bumblebee you are seeing in your garden, take a look at BumbleBee.Org.

Easter Lily: Poison Plant


Cat lovers, be careful about bringing home an Easter Lily. Several types of lilies are toxic to cats: Tiger Lilies, Asiatic Lilies, and other Japanese Lilies.
Easter Lily


Lilies can cause acute kidney failure when eaten by a cat. All parts are poisonous--even just a nibble of the leaf or flower can result in kidney failure. If you see your cat consuming any part of a lily plant, take him immediately to your veterinarian for emergency treatment.




Lily of the Valley



Lily of the Valley, not a true lily, is dangerous for cats too, but in a different way. Convallaria majalis, causes vomiting, diarrhea, decreased heart rate, cardiac arrhythmia, and possibly even seizures, when ingested.




There is some controversy about whether or not daylilies are poisonous to cats. Not a true lily, hemerocallis species are edible for humans, rabbits, and deer. Both the leaves and the flowers are delicious in salads and taste much like lettuce. 

Hemerocallis Happy Returns Daylily
The ASPCA lumps daylilies in the same category as Lilium species on the toxic plants list, but I wanted to know what scientists believe so I searched a little deeper. The Hemerocallis species does not appear on the Toxic Plant List I found. You should take a look at that list--you might be surprised to find that you have several of the plants on their list. 

Spunky spends a lot of time in the Garden
At any rate, there has apparently not been enough study done to reveal whether or not daylilies are dangerous to cats. 

I do know that some things like aspirin are fine for us to ingest but are poison for our cats. When it comes to our pets, like our children, we are responsible for their safety. When you are unsure, it is best to err on the side of caution. If your pet seems sick after eating one of your plants, take him to the vet immediately along with a sample of the plant or at least the plant name.

Easter Egg Dyes Made from Garden Vegetables and Kitchen Spices

Easter has always been an important day for my family. The true meaning of Easter is of course to remember the resurrection of our Lord. Many families miss church on Easter Sunday to get ready for that big family Easter egg hunt, but we never did. 

Many fond memories are in my heart as Easter approaches. I think of my dear late Mother even more on Easter, because she enjoyed it so much. Mama always made sure we had new Easter clothes to wear to church on Easter Sunday, even if she did not. She taught us the true meaning of Easter. And although the "Easter Bunny" did visit us each year leaving us lots of goodies in our Easter Basket, he left me my very first big Bible, reminding me that Jesus, not the Easter Bunny, is what Easter is all about. In our Easter basket every time, along with the candy, was a couple of dyed Easter eggs. 

When I got older, Mama let me help her color the Easter eggs. And when my children were old enough, she taught them. We've always used the store bought egg dying tablets or food coloring. But a few years ago I ran across the idea of using vegetables and spices from the kitchen instead. 

Now I adore anything homemade! Coloring eggs with vegetable scraps is fascinating to me. But when you think about it, it really makes sense. Take beets, for instance. They stain anything they come in contact with, from cutting boards to kitchen counters to fingers. But there are other vegetables that will work and some spices have concentrated color that makes a wonderful dye. 

The original color of the egg will alter the effect, in that darker eggs will yield a deeper or even a different color. Since our eggs now are several different colors because we have different breeds of chickens, I can't wait to see what we end up with after they are dyed.
Here's a list of foods and spices along with the color egg they will give you:
  • Beets make white eggs pink or brown eggs maroon
  • Red or Purple Onion Skins make lavender or red eggs
  • Yellow Onion Skins make white eggs orange or brown eggs rusty red
  • Purple Cabbage makes white eggs blue but brown eggs green
  • Spinach makes eggs green
  • Cumin makes eggs yellow
  • Turmeric makes yellow eggs
  • Paprika makes orange eggs
To make the dye, shred the vegetables and add 4 cups of the shredded vegetables to 1 quart of water. Bring to a boil and then lower the temperature, cover, and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, until a deep color is achieved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool before straining the liquid. 


With spices, add 2 tablespoons of the spice to 1 quart of water. It is not necessary to boil the spice and water mixture--simply heat through and allow to steep. Colored teas will also work. Just steep as you normally would for drinking. 

To help the eggs soak up the color, stir in 2 tablespoons of vinegar to the dye before using. 


(Once, I got the bright idea to save myself a step and I boiled the eggs in with the vegetables. That didn't work for 2 reasons: the white of the egg was dyed too but also the eggs were too hard, so don't do that.)

A single dipping will not color your eggs much with this dye. The eggs will need to soak for awhile. I lay my eggs in a single layer in a glass casserole dish and pour the colored liquid over the eggs making sure they are submerged in the homemade dye. Refrigerate. Allow the eggs to stay in the liquid as long as it takes to achieve the color you want. Taking a few out at different stages will give you different shades of the same color.

After the eggs are dyed, drain and dry them well with a paper towel and rub them with a little vegetable oil so they will really shine.

Troup County Master Gardeners Plant Sale & Swap

Saturday, April 26, 2014
9am until 2pm

Location: Agriculture Building on Vulcan Materials Road, 
LaGrange, Georgia - off Highway 27, across from Sam Walker Drive
  • Perennials for sun and shade
  • Vegetable Plants
  • Native Plants
  • Shrubs
  • House Plants
  • Groundcovers
  • Spring Annuals

Buy locally grown plants, grown by local gardeners, that will thrive in your garden.

Get answers for your difficult gardening questions.

Swap divisions of your plants at the exchange area, no money needed.

Proceeds from sale funds local Master Gardener projects and scholarships.

Open to the Public!

The Troup County Master Gardener Volunteer Program is provided by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.

Gardening Help for this Unpredictable Georgia Weather

Have you ever wished that you had made a record of how much rain you received over the past month? Have you ever wondered if your soil is warm enough in your garden to sow seeds?  And before planting peppers and tomatoes, we all need to know the date of our last expected frost.


If you live in Georgia, there is a way you can find out all that and more. Just go to the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network. Follow the link and you will find this map which is clickable so you can select the weather station closest to you.

Native Bees ID Chart



Identifying the bees on the poster “Join the Conversation about Native Bees”
Written by Stephen Buchmann, Ph.D., Interim NAPPC Coordinator, Pollinator Partnership
  1. Macropis nuda. There’s oil in some flowers. Flowers including Spotted       Loosestrife (Lysimachia spp.) produce energy rich and nutritious floral oils which some female bees (Macropis nuda) collect using modified leg hairs like “oil squeegees” to enrich their brood provisions. This happens in some tropical bees (especially the genus Centris) but in the northeastern USA, only in these interesting little Macropis oil bees.
  2. Agapostemon texanus. US sweat bee (a male Agapostemon texanus) is especially colorful. Males of this species have a shiny green/brassy head and thorax but a wildly contrasting black and yellow-banded abdomen. Look for these bees on sunflowers and other common plants in the late spring and summer. 
  3. Peponapis pruinosa. Squash and gourd bees (like our Peponapis pruinosa) are common bees across much of the United States. They are specialist pollinators preferring the pollen and nectar of squashes, gourds and pumpkin flowers. The genus Peponapis is a colorful bee about the size of a honey bee. They are solitary; each female constructs her own nest with no help from kin, and nest a foot or more underground, usually in or near patches of their favorite cucurbits. 
  4. Bombus impatiens. The Impatient Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens) is the preferred bumble bee of commerce. Since it can buzz pollinate, while honey bees never do, it is reared in large numbers and its colonies flown to distance localities, greenhouses needing pollinators. Since it does not naturally occur west of the Mississippi, efforts are underway to only allow it to be used in the eastern states as a managed pollinator. Its colors are muted, the yellow hair bands are often more white than a bright yellow. Compare with Morrison’s bumble bee of the western states.
  5. Osmia lignaria. The Blue Orchard Bee (Osmia lignaria) is a member of the leafcutter and mason bee family (Megachilidae). Its distribution includes the Pacific Northwest USA where it is a common visitor to fruit trees in gardens and yards. This bee is often first noticed as females searching for just the right size beetle or nail hole in which to nest and raise their brood. Blue orchard bees are specialists on trees in the rose family and superb pollinator of sweet cherries and other orchard crops. They are currently being tested as pollinators of almonds in California. This bee can be very easily provided for by drilling 7-8 mm diameter holes 5 inches deep into scrap lumber. These “bee condos” can be attached to a garden shed, fence or tree. Nesting females will take up residence and you will be rewarded with bountiful fruit harvests. 
  6. Hylaeus sp. Yellow-faced bees (Hylaeus spp.) usually go unnoticed by most gardeners and hikers. These slender black/brown bees are relatively hairless and most think they are wasps. Under a microscope, they are distinctive with a bright yellow face. The only bees natives to Hawaii are a group of these Hylaeus. Due to habitat fragmentation and loss in the Hawaiian Islands, several of these rare native bees have gone extinct, while others are declining. Hyleaus nests in hollow stems. Unlike most bees, Hylaeus carries its pollen and nectar back to the nest internally, inside the crop, or honey stomach.
  7. Habropoda laboriosa. The Southeastern Blueberry Bee (Habropoda laboriosa) is a digger bee (anthophorid in the family Apidae) from southeastern states including Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. This handsome large gray bee is an efficient pollinator of southern rabbit eye blueberries. This is one of the bees, unlike honey bees, which uses sonication, produced by rapid flight muscle contractions, to eject pollen grains from the blueberry flowers.
  8. Xylocopa varipuncta. Males of the Valley Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa varipuncta) are common in the southwestern states. These bees have striking colors, a large golden amber body with long hairs and brilliant green eyes. During the spring, males leave the nest galleries in which they emerged, inside a large log or tree branch and go courting. They establish hovering territories in a non-flowering shrub or tree and release a pheromone, a rose-scented blend of volatiles from within massive thoracic glands. Passing females decide which male to mate with based up his particular bee “cologne.”
  9. Bombus morrisoni. Morisson’s bumble bee (Bombus morrisoni) is one of the most colorful bumble bees found in western and southwestern states. It’s mostly yellow fuzzy body attracts our attention as it visits diverse flowers in gardens and native wildflower areas. This bee is one of several that turns its body into a living tuning fork on plants with pored anthers, like tomatoes or deadly nightshades (Solanum spp.). Other species are managed for greenhouse pollination of tomatoes which require this form of buzz pollination. 
  10. Perdita minima. The smallest bee in the United States is only 2.0 mm (about 1/16th of an inch) long. These small amber colored bees (Perdita minima) in the andrenid family nest in the soil and visit the small white flowers of mat-forming Euphorbiaceae that come up in sidewalk cracks and along dirt roadways in the southwestern states.
  11. Xylocopa virginica. Many gardeners mistake the Eastern Carpenter Bee (Xylocopa virginica) for a large bumble bee. Although both bees are large and colorful, they are only distantly related, both belonging to the large family Apidae. Carpenter bees collect pollen and nectar from a wide variety of plants, thus they are known as generalist feeders. Large carpenter bees construct their nests inside dead but sound wood. Sawdust scrapings are glued together to form the first “particle board” separating individual brood cells within their long galleries. In the east, X. varpipuncta is a minor structural timber pest, often constructing its galleries in sheds, outdoor beams or fence posts. On the bright side, these bees are amazing to watch at flowers or at their nests, and it takes decades of residency before there is any serious structural damage to support beams. The females reuse the same nesting tunnels year after year. 
  12. Bombus vosnessenskii. The Yellow-faced bumble bee (Bombus vosnessenskii) is a handsome bumble bee mostly black with a yellow face and prothorax and narrow yellow abdominal band. It occurs in the western states of California, into Nevada, Washington, Oregon and into British Columbia. It does not seem to have been affected, in decline, like the formerly widespread Western Bumble Bee (Bombus occidentalis)13. Bombus affinis. The Rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) is a bee that was formerly common across large areas of the United States from the Midwestern states to the northeast. It started to become rare in its former ranges after 1997. The reason(s) for its demise are not entirely settled but may include pathogen spillover from European parasites, contamination in the greenhouse bumble bee rearing industry. 
  13. Bombus affinis. The Rusty-patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) is a bee that was formerly common across large areas of the United States from the Midwestern states to the northeast. It started to become rare in its former ranges after 1997. The reason(s) for its demise are not entirely settled but may include pathogen spillover from European parasites, contamination in the greenhouse bumble bee rearing industry
  14. Megachile sp. Leafcutter bees like this handsome Megachile sp. are members of a very diverse family, the Megachilidae, which includes the leafcutter, resin and mason bees. Females of many of these bees get their name from the pieces of leaves they collect. Have you seen neat circles clipped from the edges of rose bushes or other plants? These leaf pieces are used to line the brood cells; literally the bees are usurping the chemical defenses, against microbes, found in the leaves. Please tolerate some non-harmful cosmetic damage that the females cause and you’ll be rewarded with bountiful harvests in your home garden or orchard.
  15. Andrena cornelli. Miner bees, the family Andrenidae, are represented by the huge genus Andrena, with over 2,000 described species. Females of Andrena cornelli are common spring visitors to the large pink flowers of eastern Azalea (Rhododendron canescens). The cobwebby pollen of these flowers are carried away in strings as brood food by the Andrena females.
  16. Anthophora centriformis. Digger bees, or anthophorids like this Anthophora centriformis are members of the large family Apidae. Anthophora species are large, strikingly colored fast-flying bees that visit tubular flowers like Penstemon (“beardstongue”) in gardens and natural areas. Most digger bees nest in the ground and are solitary, living out their lives without any help, like solitary wasps. 
  17. Nomada sp. The Wandering Cuckoo Bee (Nomada sp.) is a type of digger bee (family Apidae) which does not collect pollen to feed its brood. These colorful and nearly hairless bees are cleptoparasites, or cuckoos in the nest of other bees. Like cowbirds, a female cuckoo bee sneaks her own egg in the nest while the host female is away. Once hatched, the cuckoo bee kills the host egg or larva and consumes the pollen and nectar provisions left by the host female. 
  18. Augochorella pomoniella. Sweat bees like this beautiful metallic green Augochorella pomoniella are members of the large and diverse “sweat bee” family, the Halictidae. This southwestern species is a common resident of Arizona and adjoining states. These bees have sparse hairs and their integument is a shiny metallic green.

The above information was borrowed from The Pollinator Partnership.

April is National Gardening Month

Since April is National Gardening Month, now is a good time to get others interested in gardening. Over the years, I have become increasingly concerned about what contaminants might be in the food I am feeding to my family. Most store bought produce and meat contains some kind of germs or pesticides. And genetically modified foods are very scary to me, since I do not fully understand what all they entail. It is very important to know where our food comes from. I try more and more to grow as much of our own food as possible and what I can't grow, I try to purchase from another gardener in our area. Unfortunately, our year round farmer's market sells produce from all over the world, so I can't trust it for my dinner table. Our true farmer's markets are seasonal, open only from late Spring to early Fall.
Locally grown food from last summer

It would be difficult to be entirely self-sufficient and feed our families only what we can grow and produce ourselves. It's true that years ago, families did just that, only purchasing things like grain and sugar. But that was before the days of mothers working full time outside the home and before television, Facebook, and Netflix took over our lives. 


Still, we can grow much of what we eat ourselves, right in our own backyards. I don't have to worry anymore about where my eggs come from and whether or not some hen was mistreated while producing them, since we have our own backyard flock. But I do worry about salmonella, e-coli, or pesticides hitch hiking into my home and onto our dinner plate via salad greens and fruits I buy at the grocery store. 

I try to do what I can to encourage others to grow their own produce. I'm not suggesting you plow up your whole yard and turn it into a garden. Start small. Purchase a few plants from your locally owned garden center. Most of these home nursery owners grow the plants themselves from cuttings or seeds. You can help them grow their home business and grow food for your family at the same time. 

Children love planting veggies
Get the whole family involved. It is important to teach our children how to grow their own vegetables and fruit. Gardening can be hard work, but it is very rewarding. When your child sees fruits and vegetables actually growing on the plant and learns where food comes from, he will be excited to eat things he wouldn't normally try.

Although gardening can be hard work, some plants produce with little or no help from us. Plants like blueberries, plums, and blackberries don't require much intervention from us once they are planted in the ground.

How often have you turned around at the grocery store to find your child eating unwashed grapes or strawberries? That always horrified me when my children were small, but when you grow your own fruits and vegetables at home, your children can pick and eat right off the plant.

Attracting Hummingbirds the Natural Way

Many of you put out hummingbird feeders every Spring, having to remember to keep them clean and filled all summer long and into early Fall. I prefer to provide food for hummingbirds the natural way--with plants.

By the way, did you know that because of the high energy of the hummingbird, he eats up to 3 times his body weight every single day?

Hummingbirds can visit as many as 20 flowers in just one minute. In order to have enough food, they must visit hundreds of flowers every day. Woa! That's a lot of flowers!

Quite a few native plants can provide nectar for the voracious appetite of the energetic hummingbird. We have planted Red Salvia, Turk's cap Hibiscus, and Red Trumpet Honeysuckle in our garden. But one of my favorite native plants is very important for the early arriving hummingbirds.

The Red Buckeye Tree, Aesculus pavia, blooms in March, or even late February when the Winter is mild. Since the Red buckeye naturally occurs in the edge of a woodland surrounded by large trees, it usually looks more like a bushy shrub. When planted out in the open, it can become a specimen tree up to 25 feet tall. Like most plants, the Buckeye Tree will produce many more blooms when grown in full sun.

March is a great time to plant the Red Buckeye. You won't see it at the big box stores. Look for it at your local nursery that sells native plants. Young seedlings will begin blooming when less than 3 feet tall.

Your Red Buckeye Tree will become quite a focal point when covered with the large red panicles that come in early Spring. Plant it where all can see and enjoy it.

Source for this plant: Shady Gardens Nursery.


Grow Camellia sinensis and Make Your Own Green Tea

I've been drinking green tea for a few years now. Supposedly it has many benefits, especially for one who is trying to lose weight. A while back I read that the tea bags themselves are sometimes made of harmful materials, so I started using loose green tea instead of tea bags. Although I knew that organic foods are best for many reasons, I had never thought to look for organic green tea until Dr. Oz recently mentioned it on his TV show.

Like many health-conscious Americans, we are trying to grow more and more of our own food. There is no way we can know all the contaminants and pesticides that are in the food we buy. That is why many of us are growing our own food and purchasing what we can't grow from other local gardeners that we trust. Each Spring we plant as many vegetables as we can, and we try to grow as much salad and other greens as possible to avoid feeding our family contaminated greens. In the last few years we have planted plum, peach, loquat, meyer lemon, apricot, cherry, and almond trees along with blueberry and pineapple guava bushes and blackberries, raspberries, and currants. 

Awhile back I found a grower for Camellia sinensis, the plant that green tea comes from. Did you know you can grow your own green tea?

Growing the Tea Plant
Camellia sinensis grows well in the Southeastern United States. The Tea Camellia is hardy in USDA Zones 7-9, but can be grown in a greenhouse in colder climates. We had some single digit nights this Winter, and our plants suffered some. We had some leaf loss, but they seem to be getting ready to put on new growth. The Tea Plant needs the same conditions as most other camellias: light shade, well-drained acid soil, and regular water.

Camellia sinensis in September
Flowers appear in early Fall and are lovely little white single blooms with a vivid yellow center. Overall size of Camellia sinensis can vary with the site, but it will eventually attain a height of anywhere between 4 and 8 feet.






Harvesting Your Green Tea
Tea can be harvested as soon as it begins to grow in the Spring. That is March or April for us here in Georgia, depending on how soon Winter leaves us for good. Pick 2 leaves and a bud. Leaves will quickly grow back and you can harvest again in a couple of weeks. 

The only difference between green tea, black tea, and oolong tea is the oxidation process or fermentation of the leaves. Green tea is not oxidized at all. Oolong tea is partially oxidized, and black tea is bruised and allowed to dry until leaves turn completely black. 

Drying Your Green Tea
To prevent oxidation of your green tea, steam the leaves a couple of minutes on the stove top before drying. Then spread out your leaves on a baking sheet and place in a 200-250 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Once cooled, the tea leaves can be crushed and placed in an airtight container for storage where they will keep for up to 6 months. 

Brewing Your Green Tea
You will need a tea ball. Put 2 teaspoons of green tea leaves in a tea ball and place that in your cup. Heat water in a kettle. Just when water is about to boil, pour the hot water over tea ball containing your green tea leaves. Let steep for 2 minutes or more. The longer you allow your tea to steep, the stronger it will be. According to Dr. Oz, it's best to steep longer for the most benefits. You can then drink it however you enjoy it most, hot or cold. I like mine sweetened a little.


Camellia, the State Flower of Alabama

Although Alabama's State Flower is the Camellia, this popular Southern shrub is native to Asia. The first Camellias were brought to Charleston, South Carolina, in the late 1700's by the French botanist Andre' Michaux. Camellias are one of my favorite winter blooming plants. Camellias are often thought of as the Rose of Winter. There are thousands of different types of camellias, but most often what you see falls into one of two categories: Japonica and Sasanqua.

Camellia Japonica has glossy evergreen leaves and large blooms that may be any shade of white, red, or pick. Some even have "variegated" blooms that are spotched or striped. Blooms which can sometimes be very large come in several forms: single, double, semi-double, or peony type. Flowers hold up well indoors. I like to display them in a clear glass bowl.

Sasanqua Camellias have glossy evergreen foliage too, but the Sasanqua has different characteristics. Blooms are looser and appear more delicate, but the plant itself seems easier to grow. Sasanquas tolerate more sun that the Japanese Camellia, and they grow faster and larger too. 

By having a variety of both Japanese and Sasanqua Camellias in the garden, one can have blooms from Fall all the way into Spring. All camellias prefer some shade. Morning sun is okay, but give your camellias some protection from hot afternoon sun. They are all surprisingly drought tolerant once established, but you'll need to water regularly the first few years to get your shrubs established.

A good reference book to add to your collection would be Camellias: The Gardener's Encyclopedia, by Jennifer Trehane.

Although I do love camellias, personally, I think the State Flower should be one that is native to that state. But that's just me. What do you think?

Did our Severe Cold Winter kill the Bugs?

When temperatures were in the 20's, teens, and even the single digits so many times this Winter, I felt like it would kill off some of the bugs. I've heard many people say, "At least we won't have so many mosquitoes, ticks, and flies this summer!"


Our Birdbath stayed frozen for days
Well, I'm afraid that just isn't so. Ask any old-timer, and they will tell you the bugs will still be here when temperatures warm up. I didn't have to ask an old-timer, because early this morning I found a tick latched on under my clothes. And it has been cold outside this week! 

My father told me of a spider he observed from his front sitting room window during the coldest period this Winter. When night time temperatures were 7 degrees and day-time warm ups crept just to the 20's, the spider remained curled up in a ball, appearing to be lifeless. But when the weather warmed up, the spider would slowly begin wiggling as if waking up from a long nap. Once he seemed satisfied that it was sufficiently warm enough to get to work, the spider would get busy rebuilding his web. 

According to entomologist Xing Ping Hu, research professor with Auburn University, the reason insects are so resilient is that they have adapted strategies for surviving the cold. Hu pointed out that both of our coldest states, Alaska and Minnesota, are bothered by mosquitoes during the summer, so why would mosquitoes be affected by the freezing temperatures in Alabama and Georgia? Yellow Jackets are the only insect population that might be affected here, because they are susceptible to the cold. (See AL.com). That will probably be good news to all the runners who were stung during the Boy Scout Troop Trail Trek in West Point last Fall.

Garden Chores for Late Winter


In my previous post we established the fact that you should wait to prune away seemingly dead stems from winter damaged shrubs. But this weekend promises to be absolutely beautiful, and I know you are anxious to get out in the garden and do something! "What can I do?" you might be wondering.

Well first, one more "don't." Do not fertilize. Fertilizing should be done a little later on, when all danger of frost is past. 

But you can top-dress. Top-dressing is when you spread a layer of compost, composted manure, or worm castings around the plants. Top-dressing can be done any time of year, even in the middle of winter. I use the shavings from our hen house.


Poppies bloom in early Spring



You can spread mulch too, being careful not to cover the crown of the plant. Organic mulch is best--either wood chips, shredded bark, or straw. Gravel is not the mulch to use in Georgia, because it will heat the soil too much during summer and damage the plant roots.

You can plant cool season crops like collards, kale, mustard, and turnips. Sugar snap pea and snow pea seeds germinate best in cool soil. We have 3 batches of peas already coming up, and I plan to sow more today. You can broadcast seeds of larkspur and poppies now too.