Sunday, November 11, 2012

Late Fall Gardening

Dear Gardening Friends,

September and October have come and gone, as has Thanksgiving, and here we are three weeks before the Winter's Solstice (after which the days get longer and we begin to anticipate Spring), and then of course Christmas. I think of this time period in Columbia as being late fall regardless of the official definitions of the seasons. And late fall is a wonderful time for gardening.

Before I go on, please do remember to water. Despite recent rains I have rarely seen the ground so dry around here, and it is easy to forget to water when it is so much cooler outside.

  Leopard Plant - Oct blooms

This fall has been beautiful as far as fall flowers go - ageratum, plumbago, Russian and Mexican sage, Mexican petunia, autumn clematis, leopard plant, sunflowers, day lilies, zinnias, vinca lasting all the way until mid November, knock out roses and so forth. And now we have camellia sasanqua and early/fall blooming camellia japonica! I wonder what has been blooming in your yard this fall that may not be on my list?

The other day I enjoyed listening to the high pitched scree of a hawk pair flying all around the Forest Hills area. I don't know if hawks are more abundant in winter here, or just more noticeable. Lot's of reptiles are already in hibernation or partial hibernation. I'm always digging up skinks and ground snakes this time of year.

Some days after work is done I take a a few pictures of flowers and such - and you can check them out on my Flickr site in a set called Scenes from Work.

I suspect with all the stuff to do for Christmas, and given the cold purported to be descending upon us soon, 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 the late fall.

Late fall is a super time to transplant. Now that the nighttime temps are approaching freezing plants are falling to sleep and 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 that 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.

Late fall is also a very good time to plant shrubs and trees, many fruit trees, some hardy perennials, and a good time to dig, divide and transplant some bulbs.

Late fall 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. It is also one of the most damaging invasive plants in southern forests. Pulling ivy is good to do any time - but is less stressful on the plants around it when the pulling is done in cooler weather.

I have noticed more and more how leaves and straw accumulate in the crowns of azaleas. Azaleas do not like this and this time of year affords and good time to clean out the dead wood and accumulated debris around the azalea plant. The same is true of hydrangeas.

Late fall is a good time to apply mulch to boxwood, azaleas, camellias 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).

Late fall can be the right time to prune or 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 them 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.

Late fall 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 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.

And did I mention collards?

Late fall is a good time to get that compost pile going! We tend to take a large amount of plant material out to the street, much of which would be super for a compost bin.There is nothing quite as rewarding as homegrown compost!

So many of you have plants and shrubs that are easy to propagate via rooting and grafting (especially the former), and these could easily fill out your yards over time with new plantings from your own stock. All that is needed is a good rooting bed and/or rooting pots. This was my grandmother's way and it is a good one. I think for example of many of the old camellias and azaleas that many of us love and which are getting harder to find these days. And what a wonderful way to share our special plants with friends!

A word about my suppliers...As you know I primarily use Cooper's Nursery for trees and shrubs and many perennials. I go WAY back with Coopers and very much enjoy working with them. If Cooper's cannot get a certain plant in a needed time frame I have no problem getting plants elsewhere, but Cooper's is my go to supplier.  For a lot of my work in the Forest Acres area I use Forest Lake Gardens at the back of the old Forest Lake Shopping Center for pine straw and annuals and bagged soil amendment products. I am attached to the locale as I grew up working right across the street where my grandmother's Norge Village and my dad's Gillespie Cleaners used to be. In fact, the building that is the office of Forest Lake Gardens used to be the drive through building for my very first bank - the old First Citizens. And for jobs in the Heathwood or Shandon/Hollywood-Rose Hill areas I may also use Southern Vistas in a similar manner. Of course there are other really excellent locally owned and operated garden centers and nurseries such as Hay Hill, Woodley's and Mill Creek to name a few, and I wish them every success. I've just sort of settled into the folks I "trade" with, to use the phrase my grandmother used to use.

In addition, more and more I am trying to buy basic supplies from local businesses rather than Lowe's or Wal-Mart or Home Depot. I have nothing against these places - I just want to try to support local businesses. I buy a lot of things from Cedar Terrace Hardware across from the VA Hospital and more recently the Ace Hardware on Beltline as well.

My biggest joy in this work is seeing so many folks enjoying their yards and gardens more, and anxiety eased by taking care of often overwhelming tasks. We live in a special place with beautiful pine-hardwood forests and a rich history of gardening, reaching well back into the 18th century. I find it fascinating the continuity between then and now, a continuity that often runs right through the gardens of our parents and grandparents. In fact this continuity extends back to the time of our indigenous forbears! We know this from the earliest European explorers of our area (like Hernando DeSoto, and the later naturalist explorers like Mark Catesby and John Lawson and William Bartram) who chronicled native plants and the way which they were used by indigenous peoples. It's cool to think of the history of human enjoyment of that very plant sitting there in our yard, as well as the place of that plant in the ecosystem going way back eons of time. Kind of cool really.

I hope you enjoy and have a blessed late fall season! Joel

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Hurray for September

I’ve always loved September.

I even like the name of it, how it rolls off the tongue.

I think I love those first hints of fall even more than fall itself, you know, that breeze that carries a different smell, air that seems a bit drier, and a touch a coolness unexpectedly on a Saturday morning.

I love the pennant races in baseball, and the hoopla surrounding the new football season.

I like the woods in September. There is always so much going on as plants and bugs and other creatures start to get ready for the coming winter.

I probably like September more now that I don’t have to “go back to school” as in my early years. That always kind of stunk!

I dig equinoxes, and September has one, the autumnal equinox, when the sun rises true east and sets true west, the first official day of fall.

I have a soft spot for Neil Diamond's September Morn.

I like gardens in September, the blooming of the late season flowers, so many plants going to seed, brave butterflies passing through or laying eggs, life preparing to survive the coming winter, the beginning of leaf drop - especially for tulip poplars, sour woods, and this year - oddly early - dogwoods...

I like the poem “thirty days hath September…”

I like the stubble of September fields harvested.

I have a new friend with a September birthday...

John Updike published a calendar for children, each month with a short poem. Here is the poem for September:

The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.

September has been a rough month this new century – Katrina and 9/11 come to mind. Yet September seems to be a quiet month overall, one that sort of passes with little notice. It is sort of an in between month, tucked between its bigger sisters of August and October.

My family has three important birth dates in September. My grandmother, Nanny, was born on September 9th, 1902. I miss you Nanny. My sister Mary was also born in September - September 16th. And, also on September 16th, my beautiful niece Rachel was born, her life, like a passing September, fleeting and beautiful. We miss you Rachel.

For Iris Dement, September in its quiet unassuming passing reminds her of the quiet passing of her life:

My life, it don't count for nothing.
When I look at this world, I feel so small.
My life, it's only a season:
A passing September that no one will recall.

OK, that’s a bit of a downer.

The change of the season from summer to fall, and from fall to winter, used to make me sad. It doesn’t anymore.

I like September. You won’t need to wake me up when September ends; I wouldn't miss this month for the world!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

July Gardening

Greetings Gardening Friends,

Well, we got through the worst of the heat wave but just barely for some plants and critters. Now we're back to the familiar mid-nineties and high humidity that we here in Columbia have all come to know and love.

Black Elephant Ears I wrote to you last week about watering during this heat wave and have pasted in that note below. I want to add something here about irrigation systems and shrubs. I have noticed a tendency folks have pretty much everywhere to irrigate too often and not deep enough. Irrigating too often may cause the ground to be damp more often than it should be, inviting fungal diseases. Irrigating too shallowly does not allow water to get to the deeper roots, and also trains the plant roots to stay on the surface to grab water before it evaporates. What I have just written is true of lawn irrigation, but is even more true regarding the irrigation of shrubs and perennials and trees. Generally I would say irrigate less often and for a longer time period (more deeply). Try to avoid irrigating in the late afternoon since this will keep the ground moist all evening promoting fungus growth. For those who have a timed drip irrigation system in their beds, I would also suggest irrigating more deeply and less often. Mulch  really helps water retention of course.

Speaking of mulch, this is one time of year when it is especially needed. 

This time of year is one of strong growth in plants. It is a venus-fly-trap eat venus-fly-trap world out there, and plants are trying to make as much food as they can, which also means  that they are devoting some of that energy to making even more leaves for making even more food. More leaves means more transpiration which increases demand for soil water, so on and so forth. After summer flowering, plants start to divert a lot more energy to formation of fruits and seeds. Some times it is best to pick off fruits - such as camellia - so as to divert more energy into the growth and development of buds - next seasons flowers and leaves. For common non native cultivated plants that continually bloom (like knock out roses) there is a greater demand for nitrogen, which means there is a need for fertilizer. But fertilizer (a kind of salt) requires a lot more water, so unless you are going to be very very diligent about watering this is not a great time to fertilize. 

Why is this? Remember that thing called osmosis you learned about in high school? Water is always wanting to spread solute happiness around as evenly as possible by having equal concentrations of dissolved solutes (such as dissolved salts or ions) everywhere. So if two bodies of water are separated by a semipermeable membrane  (across which water can flow but not the stuff dissolved in it), the water will move from the side that has a lower concentration of dissolved solutes to the side with a higher concentration, thus equalizing the concentrations. So, if the water around the root hairs of a plant has a high concentration of dissolved solutes like fertilizer, it can actually cause water to flow FROM the root out to the soil to equalize these concentrations. This is not cool for the plant, especially in the summer when so much water leaving the leaves and demand for water is up. (For those interested osmosis is a variation of the law of entropy - but that is for another day.)

The moral of the story is that unless you want to water a lot - and you may well want to if want to produce a bumper crop of knock out rose blossoms in mid summer - you may just wait to fertilize. 

 This is of course not a great time to transplant either. But it is OK to plant from container to soil IF you are diligent in watering.

There are exceptions to this planting rule. Right now is a very good time to dig and divide and replant Iris for example. If your lily leaves are turning brown this means that   they are not producing food for the bulbs, so if you need to dig and divide lilies you can do that now too.

Since you are almost certainly already watering annuals regularly you can fertilize them, and...I like can still sow seeds for some of my most favorite annuals for fall color - such as zinnias (I love zinnias).

It is hot out there, and thankfully after this Sunday we also have water! So guess what is growing like crazy - WEEDS!. I know, it is terrible to do plant profiling, but some plants are genetically designed to grow and propagate like crazy in disturbed soils (i.e., gardens). That's their biological niche and they aim to be first out of the chute, or dirt. Many species of weeds propagate by seed only - such as "mimosa weed" and crabgrass. It is very helpful not to let them go to seed. Some weeds need to be yanked out root and all. Either way, the weeds are likely growing faster than you can keep up!

Speaking of crazy growth, this is the time for vines and saplings to take off. By now wisteria, virginia creeper, trumpet vine, cross vine, akebia, bramble, ivy, vinca, honeysuckle, smilax, kudzu, and a dozen other vines are starting to swamp, strangle and block the sun from your plants. Saplings of cherry laurel, sweet gum, hackberry, and oak are popping up and getting established everywhere. July is actually a VERY GOOD time for cleaning out jungly growth from shrubs, flower beds and trees. I would love to dejunglfy your place this summer. So let me know...It is actually possible to eradicate almost all these vines. And remember, they are competing with your shrubs not only for light (as they swallow them up), but also for water and nutrients

As to pruning, it is still hydrangea pruning time - the regular big leafed hydrangea and our wonderful native oak leaf hydrangea. There is really no super great way to prune hydrangeas, but the time to do so is soon after they bloom since they set buds for the next season on this season's new growth. When hydrangeas get big and haggard looking it is good to cut about a third of the stems down to the ground. This seems to have a stimulating effect on the overall growth. It is best to do this with the tallest or most bent or oddly shaped shoots. It's not a great idea to clip back everything a foot or growth will send out shoots from the cut area and produce lots of flower buds, and then the next season the whole plant will be top heavy. I guess it is much of an art than a science pruning these guys. As to oak leafs, it is best not to prune them at all - BUT, as I have seen first hand recently, oak leaf hydrangeas can get very large, and the shoots so heavy with blooms that they just fall over, crack, and often die. That's the time for a pruning...

Lots of shrubs can be pruned or cut back now as long as new growth for bud production isn't needed. Camellias for example...Many camellias have too many branches and need to be thinned out. Some need to have bottom limbs removed since camellia limbs on the ground promotes camellia blight. Some camellias look better "legged up." All this can be done now. Many shrubs not known for blossoms can be pruned and cut back about as well now as any other time. 

Did I say it was a good time to mulch?

Well, this should do...below is the text from the brief note I sent out last week about watering...

Stay cool and have a great 4th of July.


Dear Gardening Friends,

Well, the forecast for the next few weeks is pretty crazy in terms of heat and absence of rain. Just wanted to put out a note about watering, and a word on behalf of my feathered friends.

A lot of plants will be highly stressed over the next few months. Deep hand watering of anything planted or transplanted in the last year would be a good idea, or for that matter any non native plant in dry sunny corners of your yard. If you are going to be away and would like for me to stop by and do some watering, I can do that. 

Also, this will be a very very tough period for birds. They will be parched, and for any birds raising a second brood of little ones, or mating and laying eggs late, it is a very tough time for the little guys. Water is good - very good. Even if you don't have a bird bath you can let the hose run around a plant that needs watering and the birds will find it and be splashing around in no time. 

I know some of you worry about me working in the heat, and I appreciate that. I will be working as usual - though I will be taking more precautions - a better hat, a cooler with ice, and as I tend to do in the summer, I will be following the shade. I also hope to start working earlier. I typically find the heavy humid dead air of the morning to be worse than the heat later in the day, but this heat will be worse than usual. 

This is of course not a great time to plant - especially in a sunny location (though as long as one waters regularly it is normally OK to plant in the summer), but it is a good time to clear out beds, get rid of vines and ivy and unwanted trees and so forth. And it is still barely OK to prune azaleas and still have blooms for next year if you do that in the next week or so. 

I got a couple of cool gardening books for Father's Day one of which is entitled Gardens and Historic Plants of the Antebellum South. I have also been reading William Bartram's Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida(short title). I hope to be sharing insights and reflections inspired by these works over the course of the summer. I am pretty focused on learning more and more and am beginning a process of being able to do better design work as well.

Well, hang in there and be safe!

Friday, April 06, 2012

Happy Passover/Easter

Greetings Gardening Friends,

Just when you thought summer had already arrived - bang - a beautiful cold front arrives. I hope you get to enjoy the cool Spring weather this Easter weekend.

GM Hopkins had a wonderful take on Spring (see below). I like the fact that after his initial exultation he turns neither to majestic wilderness scenes nor to stunning gardens for his evidence of Spring's beauty and bounty, but to weeds, to birds' eggs and song, to pear tree blossoms and to the blue descending sky.

All this beauty is an echo stretching out through time from the deep past - an echo of that initial beauty of Eden's garden.

And then there is the darker side - this beauty is fragile, and always in danger of being soured by human actions. Human beings - uniquely able to speak of beauty and uniquely able to ruin it. I think there is an Easter message in there somewhere...

Which brings me back to gardening - after the poem...


GM Hopkins

NOTHING is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

I am blessed to be able to work in such beautiful places day to day. This work is good for me both physically and emotionally/spiritually and I am thankful to each and every person who has employed me and trusted me with a special place. I like plants as you know, especially trees, as well as the other critters that inhabit our garden spaces, spaces that are often filled not just with plants and animals but also memories, memories of loved ones who built and planted, or perhaps even children who played and climbed (or searched for Easter eggs) in the very same spaces. Sometimes the memories are of ourselves as children.

Our gardens are much more than plots and pieces of earth to manage well. The deeper joy of my work is to be able to help you find pleasure and joy and peace in your garden spaces. It is easy to feel anxiety and lose the joy of being outside when things are overgrown and overwhelming. The smile of pleasure and peace in a garden restored is my biggest reward. In our hectic, frazzled, frenetic, electronic world it is nice to have a space where we can just, you know, hope I help bring that about.

There is so much that can be done in April - a great month for bringing order out of chaos. But I won't interrupt the mood of this e-mail with lists of things to do. For now I just want to wish you a blessed happy Easter/Passover. I hope you have a joyful weekend.



Monday, February 06, 2012

February Gardening

Dear Gardening Friends,

I went for a long walk yesterday, Sunday the 6th, and saw all kinds of things blooming - forsythia, Japanese magnolia, daphne, camellia, tea olive, quince, lenten rose, and lots of wildflowers, including one of my favorites, a flower called lamium, that little purple flower that shoots up with a tuft of beautiful blue/purple flowers in a whorl around the stem, and dandelions, lots of dandelions!

Tree buds are swelling more and more, as they like to do this time of year, just waiting.....anticipating....I like buds. And birds. This can actually be a hard time for birds that gather seed and berries or eat insects, since seeds and berries may have been picked over, and not may insects are out yet. So it's a good time to "feed the birds, tuppence a bag."

And just when you think spring has come on warm weekends like we just had, February can surprise you. Do you remember the great snow of 1973? It was the most significant snow event in Columbia's recorded history. I remember it well and have written about it here - "The Great Snow of '73."

Before I get into all the good stuff to do in the garden in February, let me offer these words....Enjoy your yard! Bird activity is picking up, bulbs are breaking through and blooming, buds are swelling, wildflowers are blooming and it's generally a wonderful time of the year. Gardens are works in progress - never finished and never done and subject to decay and chaos - you know, kind of like people (well me anyway)...So...embrace the work-in-progress and enjoy your special place in the sun no matter what all needs to be done!

That said...

February is sort of THE month for pruning - except of course for trees and shrubs that will be blooming this spring or which bloom off last years growth. It is the best time to do heavy pruning and cutting back of overgrown foundation shrubs like holly or cleyara or pittosporum or euonymous. and if you have not yet cut back your lantana and butterfly bushes and hibiscus now is the time to do that too. It's a great time to prune Camellia sasanqua.

Roses should be pruned back over the next few weeks as well. Those of you with knock out roses - this is a good time to take the down to a couple of feet. The things grow like mad so they will over your head by summer. OK, a digression...I have come to peace with knock out roses. As long as I don't think of them as roses (given the absence of aroma and lame individual flowers), and do think of them as easy to grow, hard to kill profusely blooming shrubs, they're OK. I fact, I kind of dig them now. And speaking of roses, it is time to plant roses. Maybe this year will be your year to plant a rose garden!

Now is the best time to prune fruit trees like cherry, peach, pear - the "stone" fruits.

February is a good time to mow or otherwise cut back mondo grass and liriope. If you have not clipped back old worn leaves and stems of your lilies - including ginger lilies - do so this month.

With all this pruning it is tempting to think, OK, may as well fertilize too. But it is still early to stimulate plant growth too much. I remember my grandmother telling me many times of one disastrous year In the late 50's or early 60's a year that there was a deep freeze the first week of April (I think she said it went down to 4 degrees F) after the "sap was running" in all of her azaleas. She lost about half of them. That may have been a bit of a freak occurrence, but it serves as a good reminder. Weather patterns are pretty crazy over these months and we need to be careful not to stimulate a lot of new growth only to see it killed by a spring freeze.

February is a good time to dig and divide perennials like black eyed susan and cone flower, ground covers, ferns, and so forth.

February is still a good time to transplant shrubs and still give plants a chance to adapt to their new spots before the heat of late spring and summer come along. One problem I see often is that shrubs that are intended for shade or partial shade being suddenly exposed to full sun because of the loss of canopy trees. Once healthy acubas, camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas and the like are now struggling. So now is a good time to move them to a happier spot out of the blazing sun.

Oh, did I say February is a great time to plant new shrubs and trees? It is. So, let's get the plans made and the plants bought and planted before the hot weather comes!

For those of you who love birds and butterflies in your garden, perhaps this would be a good year for your garden to become a Certfified Wildlife Habitat. Look over the Garden for Wildlife page of the National Wildlife Federation website. I would be thrilled to help you attain this certification.

As with December and January, February is a a great time to remove unwanted vines and trees - english ivy competes with your shrubs for water and food and is easier to remove now making way for proper bed maintenance in the spring. Although wisteria is not an evergreen, it does not hide itself very well. It 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 ow, and the tubers can be removed just as well in February as in July. Honeysuckle is not evergreen but the bark also gives it away. It can be yanked quite easily right out of the ground. Wild grape vines have very distinctive bark as well. These vines and others 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, and so forth. Even oak saplings are easy to see and remove, as they often keep some of their leaves in the winter.

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



Friday, January 06, 2012

Sweet Bay

What a beautiful South Carolina January day it is today! I hope that you are able to get out and enjoy some of it! As for me, I am home bound for a few days while my work van has some transmission work done. Fun...But, I am taking advantage of the down time by doing some planning/design work and a lot of that admin stuff that goes with having a small business.

Recently I had opportunity to recommend to someone a Sweet Bay tree. I was looking it up online in order to e-mail pictures when it dawned on me that there are actually four separate plants that use the common name "Sweet Bay."

I first learned of "Sweet Bay" in Dr. Wade Batson's renowned Spring Flora class at USC back in '79. We had visited a "Carolina Bay" site in the coastal plain. These Carolina Bay areas are rich in botanical diversity, and there I first came upon the "Bay" or "Loblolly Bay" or "Sweet Bay" tree. This has been the "Sweet Bay" tree in my head all these years.

Thus I have had some confusion since, as I said, there are in fact four different species of plants found in our area that may go by the name "Sweet Bay." And the most common one is not even the Sweet Bay of Carolina Bay fame.

The four kinds of "Sweet Bay" are:

1. Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana) (Magnolia family) - Swamp Bay, Laurel Magnolia - native (Check out the Duke and Wikipedia articles).

Many cultivars of this the most commonly planted Sweet Bay have been developed for gardens. It is a wonderful plant.

2. Loblolly Bay (Gordonia lasianthus) (Tea family) - Holly Bay, Black Laurel, Summer Camellia - native ( see the Duke see and Wikipedia articles.

This is the the Sweet Bay I first learned about in botany class. It is a beautiful and wonderfully fragrant native tree and one I wholeheartedly recommend for local gardeners.

Loblolly Bay (Theaceae, Gordonia lasianthus)

(Photo from Flickr site of hdescopeland - photo and text posted 2 August 2009 revised 2 October 2010).

3. Swamp Bay (Persea palustris) (Laurel Family) - Swamp Redbay, Sweet Bay - native (note the Duke and USDA write ups).

This is a small tree native to the coastal plain and which I also learned of years ago, but had lumped together with the Loblolly Bay.

4. Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis) - Bay Laurel, True Laurel, Sweet Laurel, Sweet Bay - this bay tree is native to the Mediterranean. See see Wikipedia and Blog articles).

This is the famous culinary "bay leaf" tree and the least common of the "Sweet Bays" in our area. We are at the northern end of its range but it is planted here and has escaped and become naturalized.

Hope you enjoyed this trip down Sweet Bay Lane.


Sunday, January 01, 2012

January Gardening

And the seasons they go 'round and 'round - and 2012 is here! Happy New Year!

January doesn't seem like such a great time to attend to gardening needs, it being so cold and all. But there really are a lot of things that can be done in January that will make a difference in the upcoming gardening season as well as make your garden more attractive in the mean time.

As for me, I just love being outside in South Carolina in the winter - gardening or walking or hiking, it doesn't really matter. The air is so clear this time of year, and the sky is so blue, and the pine trees so, well, green! Any chance I get to look up at a clear Carolina blue sky through pine trees is a treat for me. And did I mention no mosquitos and low humidity (and no wasps)! Some things just stand out better in winter, like tree bark, white Sycamore bark being the best example. And I don't know why but I like seeing those dangling Sycamore and Sweet Gum balls hanging on, or last spring's Tulip Poplar flower brackets pointing skyward high in the tree. Birds are easier to see in winter, especially hawks! Sometimes it's the crows yacking at them that alerts me to look up, but other times it's the Hawks themselves screeching. I've been seeing a group of three Red Tails all around the Forest Lake and Trenholm Road area - not sure if it's always the same three though.

Days getting longer always puts a little skip in my step. It's encouraging at many levels, and knowing that longer day length or shorter night length triggers various hormonal chages in plants makes it more fun to watch the season unfold.

But what I think I like the most about winter outside are the buds, as in tree buds and plant buds. Inside are the tiny leaves and/or flowers, either well-formed in miniature, or at least already differentiated as cells ready to take on full form. What energy the tree didn’t put into its seeds or store in its roots last summer and fall it has packed into these buds. Indeed, as last summer wound down, and the buds started to form which would lie dormant over the winter, the tree “knew” to transfer important energy sources from the leaves to the buds. These buds are rich in energy which is why deer and other animals like to eat them. The softer tissues of the buds are protected from the cold by tough bud scales. These scales leave scars when they fall off, scars which tell stories about how the twig has grown over the last few years.

OK, enough of that. Here are some good things to do in your garden in January...

Apply mulch - Mulch regulates soil temperature and moisture and does a great job suppressing weed growth in the spring.

Remove unwanted vines and trees - English Ivy competes with your shrubs for water and food and is easier 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 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 be removed just as well in January as in July. Honeysuckle is not evergreen and the bark also gives it away. It can be yanked quite easily right out of the ground. Wild grape vines have very distinctive bark as well. These vines and others 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, and so forth. Even oak saplings are easy to see and remove, as they often keep some of their leaves in the winter.

Transplant - January is a good time to transplant shrubs.

Plant - January is a great time to plant a tree! Trees are good.

Clean up - One good thing about winter is that it is easier to see and remove those piles of bricks and concrete or rocks in the back of a flower bed, or old rotted landscaping timbers, or old planting pots hiding here and there. May as well get rid of that stuff while you're noticing it. It is a good time to remove dead wood from Azaleas or rake old leaves or old flower petals out from under Camellias.

Prune, Clip, and Trim - Obviously January is not the time to prune plants grown for their flowers (best to wait until after they bloom), but it can be a good time to neaten up ungainly hedges or prune tree limbs that are hanging over your shrubs. Boxwood can be selectively thinned in January and made more ready to fill out come spring. Some shrubs like Camellia Sasanqua that bloom in the fall can be pruned safely in January. Winter can also be a good time for neatening up non flowering hedges. Why be anoyed all winter by ungainly shrubs? 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 falling all over each other (and other plants), remove old Lantana stems, and so forth. OK, there are opposite views about when to cut back Lantana. Personally I do not think the very slight risk of water seeping into a cut stem and causing rot or fungal problems outweighs the unslightliness of gangly Lantana stems. I am actually not convinced that cutting back Lantana in the winter increases the chance of disease or cold damage, especially if one gives the crown area a good blanket of mulch. Some of the same arguments apply to Ginger Lilies and other plants. If Ginger Lilies are lying over other plants or lawn I would cut them now, and if not I'd wait until late February.

Prepare Soil - January 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 covering it, can be a good way to prep the soil for an early spring planting.

Water - 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, just as putting water on peach buds during a hard freeze can help save the buds!

Plan - January 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 for it we may have missed a window of opportunity. Best to get out the garden books and catalogs and start planning now, rather than then.

Of course I 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.