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, everything bloomed much earlier than usual. Plants that normally cover themselves with blooms in June began blooming in May. Oakleaf Hydrangeas are particularly beautiful this year. I believe they all have a bloom cluster at the end of each and every stem.

I have never seen the species Hydrangea quercifolia in my garden so beautiful as they are now. I dug these from my brother's property in Beulah, Alabama.

Snowflake Hydrangea is gorgeous with its pure white double bloom clusters. This plant always reminds me of my good friend Laura who was with me when I purchased it. Laura suffered from cancer that was overtaking her body. Time spent with her was precious. We spent the day touring Wilkerson Mill Gardens in the little town of Chattahoochee Mills, Georgia. The kids loved it, as did we. We bought several plants that day, which have thrived in our garden. So if you get a chance to see the garden and nursery there, I highly recommend it.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice' has sprawled all over the place and will have to be cut back for rejuvenation. However, her blooms are large and fragrant. The fragrance was a surprise to me, but now I understand why the bees love Alice Hydrangea so much.

January Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Leatherleaf Mahonia

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Mahonia Berries develop after the blooms
Bright yellow bloom spikes atop Mahonia provide winter nectar for pollinators which are buzzing around this holly-like evergreen from China. Every year, I look forward to seeing these bright flowers open in the middle of a cold winter. Bloom time for the mahonia is dependent on the temperatures we are having any given winter. I have seen them open as early as December, but usually the blooms open soon after Christmas. We have had a very mild winter, so on warm days we are seeing bees buzzing around anything with flowers, including our many mahonia bushes.

You won't find many plants easier to grow than the mahonia. This plant grows happily in sun or shade and in any type of soil. However, foliage stays greener making a much more attractive plant when grown in shade. Supplemental water is unnecessary. 

I hope I do not receive numerous comments and emails chastising me for planting and recommending mahonia in the home garden, for this is one plant that gardeners either love or hate. There is no middle ground with mahonia. Many call this plant invasive, but I disagree. Mahonia is not capable of crowding and choking out native plants. Mahonia shrubs grow alongside our native trees, shrubs, and groundcovers without killing them or harming them in any way. And since pollinators are frequently darting around on warm days searching for nectar in our mild climate, I will consider any plant that blooms in January.

A common name for Mahonia is Grape Holly, so named because the bright yellow blooms develop into dark purple/black drupes that resemble grapes. Birds will eat them, but usually only after they dry a bit and look like raisins.  These attractive fruits give Mahonia value on into spring. 

Mahonia is a shrub that is beautiful any time of the year. Evergreen "holly-like" prickly leaves have an architectural habit that is unusual and can be a focal point in the garden. Add to that bright yellow blooms in January that attract pollinators and blue black fruits in Spring, and you have a great plant for the Southern garden.

July Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Chelone, Turtlehead

Chelone 'Hot Lips' at Shady Gardens
A cute little plant in my garden has the funny common name of Turtlehead. Chelone has pretty flowers that do resemble the head of a turtle. Legend has it that Chelone was a nymph in Greek mythology who insulted the gods by either ridiculing or not attending the marriage of Zeus to Hera. The gods punished her by turning her into a turtle.

Chelone is a perennial plant found growing wild in the Northeastern United States. Bloom spikes develop in late summer into early fall. This plant grows best in evenly moist soil. It is most often found growing in moist meadows, swamps, and along stream banks. 

Chelone is an important food source for the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly which loves to breed among the plants.

When happy, Chelone will grow up to 4 feet tall and about 2 feet wide. Foliage is a deep dark green. 

Chelone is hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8, so can be grown in most of the United States. 

Chelone has few requirements, but it does need soil that is moist to wet and rich with humus. 

Light requirements are easy to provide, as chelone grows well in partial shade or full sun. In full sun, it definitely needs plenty of moisture. Mulch well, especially when growing in full sun. I suggest shredded leaves as the optimal mulch material.

Chelone is great as a wetland plant, bog plant, or along the edge of a pond, but also grows well in containers as long as you do not allow the soil to become dry.

Additional Features:
  • Deer do not eat chelone
  • Attracts multitudes of pollinators
  • Good cut flower
*Chelone foliage dies back to the ground for winter dormancy in late September or early October, so mark the spot where planted to prevent accidental damage to the plant during your winter gardening chores.

Chelone glabra, White Turtlehead – White Blooms appearing in August and September atop bright green foliage.

Chelone Lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ – Bright rose-pink blooms August – September atop deep green foliage.

November Blooms in my Georgia Garden: Salvia greggii

One of the most reliable bloomers in my Georgia garden is Salvia greggii, Autumn Sage. Living up to its common name, this little woody perennial that grows more like a small shrub is still in full bloom after Thanksgiving this year. Autumn Sage is nearly evergreen in our West Central Georgia climate, often blooming on into December and sporadically throughout the winter. Bright red blooms attract hummingbirds and other pollinators to the garden. The aromatic foliage is not devoured by deer.

My first Autumn Sage was given to me by the horticulturists at Hills and Dales Estate when I was a volunteer there. They were very generous to the Troup County Master Gardeners, often giving us plants we admired when we worked there. Some of my favorite plants came from their lovely historic gardens.  

The blooms of Salvia greggii are most often red or some shade of red, but thanks to breeding programs, can now be found in pink, orange, and even white. 

Autumn Sage is not bothered by disease or pests, including deer. This plant doesn't even want fertilizer unless it's growing in a container for an extended period of time.

Salvia greggii is native to the state of Texas, but grows well all over the Southeast and can be grown in most parts of the United States. Autumn Sage is hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 9.  This salvia makes a fine specimen or hedge plant in flower or shrub border. It can be pruned to a certain height and is easily kept to 2 or 3 feet tall. Salvia greggii is an excellent xeriscape plant, adapting well to rocky, sandy, and poor soil as long as it is well-drained. Supplemental water is usually not necessary, even in dry and drought-prone areas. Full sun is the only requirement of Autumn Sage.

A lovely companion for Autumn Sage is the Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucantha.

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!

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...