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November Foliage in my Georgia Garden: Sourwood Tree

Sourwood cannot be beat in my opinion. It’s my favorite native tree, because in addition to beautiful maroon foliage in early fall, Sourwood has fragrant blooms in early summer that look and smell like Lily of the Valley! Sourwood is a very ornamental small to medium-sized tree native to the United States. Leaves of Oxydendron arboreum possess a sour taste, giving the plant the common name of Sourwood.

Lovely clusters of sweet smelling blossoms hang delicately from the tree in early summer. Later the blooms develop into attractive seed clusters that are usually still hanging on the tree in fall when foliage turns its fire-red fall color.
Leaves begin to change from green to red as early as August. Autumn color can be a combination of red, burgundy, and purple!

The photo shows a small tree in my garden in November, but some large specimens can be seen at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia.

Sourwood prefers a semi-sheltered position in partial shade--the edge of a woodland is perfect. This lovely tree also grows well in full sun and is a great choice for a roadside garden.

Although drought-tolerant once established, water regularly the first year after planting, to make sure your tree gets off to a healthy start.

An important source of nectar for honeybees, sourwood is a smart choice for our environment in light of the decrease in honeybee populations across the country.
I don’t know about you, but during the winter, I just cannot get warm without a fire! Every time I build a new fire something must be done with the ashes from the previous one.  We try to recycle as much as we can, and I just abhor waste. What can we do with those wood ashes?

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

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

To find out what kind of soil you have, you can take a soil sample to your local County Extension Service for evaluation. For a small fee, they will send it off for testing. For more information, just call your local county extension office.

Also, as with most fertilizers, a little wood ash goes a long way.  Apply no more than 20 pounds per 1000 square feet per year. Plus, wood ashes should never be applied too close to tender roots of newly planted seedlings, so it’s best to apply them to the soil well in advance of planting time. (Fall would be great!) Wood ashes are also beneficial to lawns if applied very sparingly and watered in well.

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

March Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Creeping Phlox

Blooms are everywhere today in my Georgia garden. After such a mild winter, everything is blooming much earlier than normal. Creeping Phlox is absolutely gorgeous on a slope or spilling over a rock wall. I have tried growing this tough little groundcover to spill over the brick retaining wall beside our driveway. But these pesky chickens (whom I love very much) won't let me have anything planted there. So far they've destroyed creeping phlox, Loropetalum 'Pixie', oregano, and ice plant in that spot. I have managed to keep some Lamb's Ear there by surrounding it with rocks. Wish me luck on that. But if you don't have free-range chickens roaming around in your garden scratching up your plants, Creeping Phlox will thrive for you, wherever you plant it. There's a fragrance too!