Wednesday, November 30, 2011

December Gardening

It is hard to believe that December is upon us, but it is, and it is starting to get colder, and getting dark ever earlier, and holiday season signs are everywhere.

I suspect with all the stuff to do for Christmas, and Christmas parties to attend, and given the cold starting to descend upon us, that a lot of us take a break from thinking about our gardens. But there are actually some useful things to do in the garden in December.

December is a super time to transplant. Now that we have had or will soon have a couple of decent freezes plants are falling to sleep - going into dormancy (kind of like animal hibernation) - which means first that there is less transpiration going on (none in deciduous trees and shrubs obviously) and thus much less demand being put on the roots by the leaves to get water (for photosynthesis), and second, that the plant is not going to sprout new shoots and buds if it is cut back somewhat. This means that when we transplant at this time of year it is much less traumatic for the plant. But plant roots do grow slowly over the winter and so that when the weather does heat up in the Spring and the plant comes out of dormancy it has had a chance for its roots to set and is in better shape to survive its first summer.

December is also a very good time to plant shrubs and trees, many fruit trees, some hardy perennials, and some bulbs.

December is a good time to get rid of vines and tree saplings that have been taking over the garden. Even with deciduous vines it is actually quite easy to see them this time of year, and much easier to see some evergreen vines. Now is a perfect time to take out English Ivy. English Ivy is an ongoing maintenance challenge and it also competes with shrubs for water and nutrients. Pulling Ivy out is less stressful on the plants around it when the pulling is done in cooler weather. One thing I have noticed is that when Spring does finally come many vines like Wisteria take off so fast, that before we wrap our heads around the fact that it is Spring the vines have already wormed their way through our shrubs and bushes. And we look, and sigh...

December is a good time to apply mulch to boxwood, azaleas and many other shrubs, especially after cleaning out old plant litter and dead wood. Since it also a good time to apply a light feeding to many shrubs (to help root growth over the winter) some folks like to use a mulch like Dixie Mix, or to sprinkle a slow release granular fertilizer in with say shredded hardwood bark (my favorite mulch for around here).

December can be the right time to prune of cut back unsightly overgrown foundation plants, especially those whose flowering buds are not already set. One could argue that February is better, but if you just don't want to look at an overgrown or unsightly bush or row of bushes all winter it won't do any harm to prune it now since the plant is dormant. Boxwood too can be selectively pruned now to allow in more light and air which will stimulate bud growth in early Spring.

December is a good time to start to get the ground ready for a Spring planting of vegetables. Bacteria and worms don't stop working in our mild winters when the soil rarely freezes, and late fall (I think of December before Christmas as late fall) is an active time for worms and bacteria to work on decomposing leaves and enriching soil. Turning the soil in a planting bed, especially if it has some leaves or leaf litter can be a good way to prep the soil for an early Spring planting.

Remember to water in winter. Not only do plants still need water to live, but keeping the soil watered helps ameliorate the impact of a cold snap, protecting plant tissue much as putting water on peach buds during a hard freeze can help save the buds!

Best of all, December is a great time to start thinking about and planning for the Spring. Since we begin to get a lot of new growing activity by late February, Spring can sort of sneak up on us here in Columbia and by the time we're ready we may have missed a window of opportunity. Best to get out the garden books and catalogs and start planning now, rather than then.

I hope you enjoyed reading this. As always I am available to help however I can.

Maybe you have some other ideas to share about gardening in December - especially here in the midlands of SC.

Happy December...


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Folks have been saying that this is not going to be a great fall for leaf color, but it is sure a great fall for Camellia Sasanqua color. I don't remember the Sasanquas ever being so prolific. I fondly think of my former Organic professor Dr. Teague when I pass by his old place at the corner of Adger and Trenholm and see the long row of beautiful Sasanquas there along Trenholm. And yes, all Sansanquas are Camellias but not all Camellias are Sasanquas.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


Sweet Gum Leaves on Pond in Columbia

Monday, June 06, 2011

Downed Poplar, Snapping Turtle, Chuck Berry

Today I worked again at Nandina Hills. The Hills have had a tough couple of weeks. About ten days ago a storm uprooted a huge double trunked Tulip Poplar which fell toward the house from 80+ feet away, and quite a ways lower in elevation. The crown of the Poplar tore holes in half the length of the roof (of a house three stories in height the base of which was already quite higher than the base of the tree) and sent limbs through the roof into various upstairs rooms. This was a seriously big tree, possibly close to 150 feet in height. There was a hole about 15 feet across and 6 or so feet deep from the root ball.

The next week another smaller Poplar went down in the other direction across the fence into the neighbor's yard.

The yard also has the tallest Sweet Gum tree I have ever seen outside of Congaree Swamp. Hope it stays put.

I got to play with a very big Snapping Turtle today. His (or her) carapace was maybe 16 inches long and he was chillin' in a little temporary pond formed after the rain. Apparently he has taken up residence on the property. It's quite possible he was/is as old as I am so wanted to afford him all due respect, but I couldn't resist getting him to snap a few sticks of various sizes in two, nor could I resist picking him up a little by his shell and watching his huge legs flail.

I was kind of hoping to see a Water Moccasin today...OK, well, maybe not...but I was worried a little about them given all the frontage on the headwaters of Forest Lake near to what we used to call the "second spillway" growing up in the hood. A lot of water was pouring through the spillway today.

My knee held up pretty well, especially given the extremely hilly and rocky and generally uneven terrain. I tweaked it a few times but not badly.

No deep thoughts today - was just glad to get through the day OK...

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Setter, Church, All Time is Present to God

I was waiting at the light at Trenholm and Forest Drive yesterday behind an SUV, and sticking his head out of the back window was an Irish Setter who looked a lot like Clancey. I haven't seen many Irish Setters lately and kind of wonder if the breed has gone out of favor. It was nice to see an Irish Setter again. Here's a picture of Clancey...

Clancey Wet

I should be in church right now I suppose. I don't say the following for sympathy and it feels kind of pathetic/loserville-ish to admit it, but going to church these days is just hard. I usually spend the time dealing with a flood of emotions rather than focusing on worship/word/fellowship, and find myself looking to get out as quickly as possible so I don't have to talk to anybody. I hope that, before too long, maybe after the dust is settled, it will be different.

I worked hard in the sun yesterday and though I was somewhat winded my knee held up pretty well. There are still things I can't do and I have to build endurance but I am optimistic.

I worked in a yard in which the homeowner grew up, and which has become overgrown, and I uncovered a whole bunch of items that seemed to tell a story of years past - young children at play and gardening projects mostly. It doesn't take long before vines and trees cover up our histories. It is wistful to think of stories told by these items, and the memories embodied perhaps in them, but noticing this history adds meaning to my work. It's not long before the memories of our lives fade entirely. That would seem very depressing to me except that I do think our memories are held intact in the mind of God to whom and for whom all time is present tense. So, oddly, imagining Him seeing and knowing and understanding these life stories and "seeing" them "now" is comforting.

Well, maybe I'll make church tonight somewhere...

Friday, June 03, 2011

Storms, Four O'Clocks, and Overalls

The storm Thursday night in Columbia was the fiercest I have seen in years. Two large oak trees snapped in the property behind my sister's house and took wires down with them. The wind had that loud whooshing sound it has when you worry about worse things...

I love sitting out in the carport or on a porch watching and listening to storms. This was a favorite past time of me and my dad when a good summer storm would whip up - and the more thunder and lightning the better. In later years in Greensboro I enjoyed standing on our little front porch with my daughters during a good storm - and sometimes when threat of lightning was passed running around in the rain!

I never realized how much I loved and missed the sound of wind rushing through tall Loblolly, Shortleaf, and Longleaf Pine trees. It's different. I like it.

Just before the storm hit the Trenholm Plaza area yesterday I spent an hour with a new friend and customer who lived nearby, walking around her garden and talking about what she would like to do in this place or that. In her back garden she had mostly white and blue flowers. I suggested she consider an old favorite of mine, a beautiful flower and plant I enjoyed as a child - Four O'Clocks, and white ones in particular. Four O'Clocks have beautiful foliage, a lovely flower that opens late in the day and through the night, and what I think is a wonderful and unique aroma.

And then there are the seeds, the little black hand grenade-looking seeds that are so easy to collect and sort and replant. I used to collect them in Dixie Cups as a kid, each cup labeled by the color of the flower from which the seed came.

Four O'Clocks grow in sun or part shade. They grow seemingly as an annual but propagate from their seeds and come back each year from an underground tuber.

I told the nice lady that I'd send her a picture of Four O'Clocks, but the only pics I could find had me in them! Here is one from 1977...

Joel and Four O 'Clocks 1977

I think overalls need to make a fashion comeback. Maybe if I lose 30 pounds they will look even cooler on me...Yes maybe my true calling is to be an overalls model...:-)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

First Day of Summer

OK, I know the "official" first day of Summer is June 21, the day of the Summer Solstice, but in Columbia SC the season of Summer starts before that. I think of Summer as June-July-August, but maybe that's just me.

I started working again today two weeks after my knee surgery. It felt good to be working again. I am out of shape just from the three week lay off. OK, in fairness to myself it was 95 degrees today. Seems like it was still very much Spring when I stopped working before the surgery.

It is very nice to walk around again without constant pain. Rummaging around in beds filled with vines and debris it is hard not to stumble here and there, and I did tweak the knee a bit, but not too badly.

I am so thankful for the friends who made it possible for me to have the surgery.

My nephew Sanders worked with me today, and will over the summer. He is a good worker. He had the privilege of digging out several stumps - just some good old fashioned hard work. I think he liked it.

Yesterday I sat outside with a wonderful 85 year old woman and talked about life and death and kids and gardens and marriage. I was able to enjoy eating a bunch of Loquat fruit while we talked - they were awesome!

She told me stories about the various trees and bushes and statues in her yard, where they came from, which she planted, and so forth. It was pretty obvious that going outside and sitting in that special place under her River Birch and Loquat trees caused some anxiety for her because of how overgrown everything has become. I am going to help her reclaim her beautiful garden from Wisteria and other assorted vines and trees so that that she can sit outside and feel peace and not anxiety. That is the best thing about what I'm doing now.

I didn't tell her much at all about my situation, but I guess she has been around the block over the course of her 85 years. After I walked her back into her house, and as I turned to go to my car, she said (something like), "There is someone out there who will love you...for who you are."

That kind of made me smile.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Red Brick and Windows


Taken in downtown Columbia SC on Main between Lady and Washington.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Red and Yellow Black and White ( and all combinations thereof!)

On Saturday I did something I had not done in a long time - I went to the mall, as in Four Seasons Town Center, Greensboro. Madeline and I were hanging out and she suggested it. I have to admit that it was kind of fun.

I was surprised at how crowded it was. We had to park way away from the entrance. And it was indeed very full of people. There seemed to be a lot of big post-holiday sales going on, but I then don't really know if that's why it was so crowded.

Madeline disappeared into several stores and I spent a fair bit of time hanging out by the interior railing on the second of the three floors just watching people. I have to say it was an oddly interesting and positive experience. Abd that's coming from a guy who pretty much hates malls.

Both interesting, pleasing and somewhat encouraging was the amazing diversity of the people. I didn't do any counting but the crowd appeared about equal parts White/Caucasian, Hispanic, and African American, with a significant number of Asian - mostly East Asian but lots of folks from the Indian Subcontinent. Some of the "Asian" people looked like maybe they were indigenous people of Central or South America. I guess that is a kind of Asian. Anyway, it was quite the potpourri!

There were very few groups of wandering young males of any color. It appears that the mall staff is working hard to make the place safer and less threatening to its visitors. That is fine by me.

There were all sorts of mixes of family groups - couples, large families, older parents with children and grandchildren, one parent with child, etc. There were lots and lots of kids of all sizes and skin colors - well, actually there were lots of adults of all sizes and skin colors too! There were also many racially mixed couples - pretty much every sort one could think of. People seemed kind of happy and chill and totally unbothered by all the folks of other ethnicities.

I kept thinking of all the stories of how so many of these people from so many places on earth got here. And to think of where we have come in the last four or five decades! I mean, I did not pick up on the slightest tension in the crowd - everyone really seemed so chill and at ease. Wow have we come a long way!

If this is where our nation is heading it is certainly alright with me! There was something in that crowd that seemed to me so quintessentially American it just made me feel good, good about being at the mall that day, and good about our nation.

Thinking (again) of Snow

Zermatt - So Much for Seeing the Matterhorn - March 1978

Zermatt - So Much for Seeing the Matterhorn - March 1978

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Professor Sargent

Professor Sargent Camellia II

Red Professor Sargent Camellias were in full bloom yesterday, January 5, in Columbia, in the Forest Lake area were I was working. This is not a noteworthy photograph. I took it mostly for getting the gist. The particular flower is not as deep red as the variety tends to be, is a tad cold-burnt, and has a glare off the petals from the direct sun.

Professor Sargent is a wonderful old heirloom Camellia variety - kind of peony-like, and perfect as a cut flower.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

January Gardening

I know that January doesn't seem like such a great time to attend to gardening needs, but there really are a lot of things that can be done in January that will both make a difference in the upcoming gardening season and make your garden more attractive right away.

Lest we gardeners feel like we're doing all the work, well...a whole-lot-of work is already being done by plants and bacteria and fungi. Spring gardening can be a lot more productive when we help natural processes along in the Winter and make things ready for a burst of life in the Spring. Better not to have the excitement of Spring ruined by fast growing Wisteria and other vines.

Here are some good things to do in January...

Apply mulch - Mulch regulates soil temperature and moisture and does a great job suppressing weeds. It is often best to apply mulch right on top of leaves and straw since they then provide superb nutrients for your beds.

Get rid of unwanted vines and trees - English Ivy competes with your shrubs for water and food and is easy to remove in the Winter making way for proper bed maintenance in the Spring. Although Wisteria is not an evergreen, it does not hide itself very well. It is is actually easier to track down and get rid of Wisteria's underground runners (and root hubs) in the Winter when access in and out of beds is easier. Green Smilax shoots are easier to see in the winter, and the tubers can removed just as well in January as in July. The bark of Honeysuckle vine is also easier to see in Winter. It can usually be yanked right out of the ground. These three vines are so aggressive that they swarm your other plants in early Spring faster than you can shake a stick. May as well get rid of them now.

Winter is also a good time to remove some of the more common pesky large shrubs and trees such as Cherry Laurel, Ligustrum, Hackberry, Oak, and so forth. Oak saplings normally keep their leaves in the Winter and they just stick right out against the brown background.

Transplant - January is a good time to transplant shrubs and small trees.

Plant - January is a great time to plant a tree!

Clean up - One good thing about winter is that it is easier to see those piles of bricks and concrete or rocks in the back of a bed, old rotted landscaping timbers, or vines wrapped all over a fence or tree trunk. May as well get rid of that stuff while you're noticing it!

Prune and Clip - Obviously January is not the time to prune most flowering plants (best to wait until after they bloom), but it can be a great time to prune tree limbs that are hanging over your shrubs. Plants need fresh air and light.

Winter can also be a good time for neatening up non flowering hedges.

Trim - January is a good time to trim back monkey grass, get rid of the dying stalks and leaves of last year's daylilies, cut back Ginger lilies fallen all over each other, remove old Lantana stems and so forth.

I of course am available for these and other garden tasks. PLEASE feel free to forward this link along to anyone that you think could use my services - Columbia, Greensboro, and other select towns in the Carolinas.



Saturday, January 01, 2011

Madeline and Boots

Boots and Madeline