Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Firecracker Plant - Russelia equisetofprmos

I know it has been so long since I wrote something on my blog that you may have thought I'd given up! But no I have had so many thing I wanted to write....I have just been so busy! But as I was putting plants into my greenhouse I thought I'd tell you about one of my favorite plants of old.

When I lived in Florida I had a plant I really liked that put on a spectacular show when it bloomed. It would die back in a really cold winter but would come back each spring and bloom like crazy in the summer. It is called a firecracker Plant or Russelia equisetofprmos and is considered a tropical/tender perennial where I lived in central Florida. It really has an explosive impact in your garden. Its narrow, soft leaves give it a fine texture in the landscape, making it a great contrast to broad-leaf plants. Firecracker plant typically blooms year-round with a profusion of red, tubular flowers in a warm climate. Firecracker plant can reach three to four feet tall and six or more feet wide, so be sure to give it room to sprawl. However, it is a tender plant, so be sure to cover it when cold weather strikes. Or you can let it freeze back and see if it rebounds in the spring. This plant is relatively pest-free, somewhat drought tolerant, and even attracts butterflies and hummingbirds—what more could you ask for?

I found this plant again after I move to Charleston after spending 5 years in Georgia. My plants would come back every year after our somewhat colder winters than I had in Florida but it would take almost all summer to get to any size and would finally bloom just about the time the warm growing season was over. So after several years of this I finally dug it up one fall and over wintered it in a protected place then planted it outdoors again. That got better results but still nothing like I had in Florida. So then I though maybe it was the difference in my soil. My Florida soil if you could call it that was sand. Not just sandy but sand and my soil here is clay. So this year after over wintering my Firecracker plant in my mini greenhouse I put them in hanging baskets and hung them near my hummingbird feeders. This turned out to be a good idea. The plant bloomed better and my family of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds loved the plant. So I will continue with this idea next year.I should have taken a photo earlier in the year when my plant was in full bloom, but you get the idea. (Also some photos of this plant were pre-digital camera.)

Friday, September 13, 2013

American Beautyberry

American Beautyberry: Callicarpa Americana

I first planted this shrub in my central Florida home after I fell in love with the striking berries….it did not like it there. I planted Callicarpa dicotoma ‘Early Amethyst’ in my Georgia home where it thrived but the berries were not as vibrant. A fellow Master Gardener invited me to her Wadmalaw Island home to dig some from her yard. Together we dug up 4 in the fall of 2004 and I grew them in pots until I could plant them in my new home in South Carolina. All four have done very well and I added two more. One that came up in my yard from seed I’m guessing and another seedling I got from Cypress Gardens. All have thrived this summer and are full of berries. They seemed to have benefited from the early summer rains.

As it turns out the berries are also a favorite food of wildlife. I didn’t originally plant them for wildlife but they have become a food source for my wildlife habitat. As it turns out the Beautyberry is a squirrel’s idea of takeout food! They have been seen breaking off a branch as long as 1-2 feet long and carry it off to a tall tree to enjoy. For several years the only time I’d see a Mockingbird in my yard was when they were eating the blueberries I planted for them or when the Beautyberries were ripe. Until this year I’d never had a bumper crop of berries and all would be gone in a matter of 3 days! Humans are not as enthusiastic. The berries are slightly astringent and best eaten raw only a few at a time.

If wildlife will leave the shrub alone it produces an abundance of very showy clusters of purple or white berries in late summer and early fall. I didn’t list the varieties that produce white berries but they are available. I like the purple best! The flowers are small lavender-pink in color, followed by green berries June – August. They berries start turning purple in late August as they mature. Beautyberry is deciduous and the leaves turn light chartreuse before falling off in the fall. The clusters of showy berried persist into late fall (if the birds don’t find them).

Plant Information:

• American beautyberry (C. americana) is a native woodland plant in the warmer areas of the southeastern states; it is considered hardy in Zones 7-11. Three Asian species, C. japonica from Japan, and C. dichotoma and C. bodinieri from China, are cultivated and are considered to have more tolerance to cold (Zones 5-8).
• American beautyberry and Japanese beautyberry grow 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, but can reach 8 to10 feet under favorable growing conditions. Generally, these shrub species develop a rounded shape with long, arching branches and light green foliage. I found Callicarpa dicotoma to be slightly smaller in size reaching only about 3-5 feet in height and width.
• Plant them in a natural woodland setting under tall shade trees or as an informal hedge along the perimeter of a property.
• A long-lived shrub that grows at a moderate rate depending on species and conditions. Ideally the soil should be fertile, loose and well drained, though it will tolerate most soil conditions. Usually found in areas with light to moderate shade, but for maximum flowering and berry production they can grow in full sun when adequate moisture is provided.
• Beautyberries prefer at least an inch of rain (or equivalent watering) each week, although they can endure short periods of drought. Beautyberry generally doesn't need pruning; the shrub has an open form, and branches naturally hang down when weighted with berries. Beautyberry generally has few pest problems.

Dr. Julia Morton, a famed research professor of biology at the University of Miami said this about the Beauty Berry in her book ‘Wild Plants for Survival in South Florida:” “The rank odor of the plant makes nibbling of [berry] bunches on the stem unpleasant.”

American beautyberry has been used as a folk remedy to prevent mosquito bites. There are three chemicals in the leaves scientists are trying to replicate for mosquito repellent. They may be as effective as DEET, according to researchers with the USDA. The chemicals, particularly one called callicarpenal, showed significant bite-deterring activity against the yellow-fever mosquito and the mosquito that spreads malaria. Callicarpenal and other compounds isolated from the plant also repelled fire ants and ticks.

Native Indians had many uses for the Beautyberry, among them: A decoction of the root bark as a diuretic; the leaves for dropsy; a tea from the roots for dysentery and stomach aches; A tea made from the roots and berries for colic; and, the leaves and roots in sweat baths for the treatment of malaria, rheumatism and fevers.

I just love them for the beautiful berries and easy care!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Water Garden Hints

I waited a long time to get a pond in the backyard. Finally in 2005 I helped my husband install a 250-gallon preformed pond. Almost immediately we thought it should have been bigger. So keep that in mind if or when you install a pond. We struggled the first year with algae. After some research we found that small ponds like ours tend to have that problem. So after trying several unsuccessful ideas including barley straw, aquatic plants and coloring the water using a dye made for treating pond water. We finally invested in a UV Filter. Most of the time the UV filter handles the algae problem, but on occasion after a heavy rain I will use a safe for plant and fish algae relief you can find a your local hardware or home improvement stores.

This year though I’ve had problems getting my water lilies to grow. I finally realized the problem was they were not getting enough light. I’m not sure how I will solve that problem but have all winter to figure it out. With fewer plants I worried about the fish eating birds spotting my 7 goldfish and did my best to provide some cover around the edges of the pond with other plants and in the center of the pond by replaced some of the PVC pipes back into the pond. (I had removed them when a Snowy Egret ate our last fish.) So far the fish have survived the summer with no going missing.

With the rainy summer I found I had to clean the ponds filter a lot more often than previous summers. Run off from the yard found its way into the pond. I thought it would be nice to have an extra filter & pump unit that I could exchange with the dirty one. So my husband surprised me with a new set-up so I can do just that. Now I can clean the dirty filter inside in the utility sink or outside in a shady, cooler spot.

Here are some tips for algae control. It may take several of these or all to control algae in a small pond:
1. Plan the location of your pond to take advantage of shady areas in your yard. Be careful not to locate your pond under a tree, however, as trees can drop leaves and sap that can play havoc with your pond water.
2. Construct or retrofit your pond so that water from your yard cannot flow into it.
3. Install a fine bubble aerator. The main cause of algae bloom is the lack of water movement. Placed at the deepest section of the pond and aerate the pond 24/7, you create a natural water movement in the pond,
4. Use water plants to help keep sunlight off of the water surface. Pickerelweed, Water Lilies, and Lotus are all good choices.
5. Include submersible plants such as Elodea that uses the nutrients that algae need to grow.
6. Introduce aquatic pond snails to your pond. Pond snails dine on the algae in your pond.
7. Add tadpoles to your pond. Tadpoles not only eat algae but also eat mosquito and other insect larvae.
8. Feed your fish only as much food as can be eaten within about five minutes. Food not eaten will decay and contribute to algae growth.
9. Clean the filters in your filtration system regularly. Clogged filters can dill beneficial bacteria and allow algae to flourish.
10. Use an ultraviolet light sterilizer. These sterilizers break down the cell walls of the algae, killing it.
11. Clean the surface of your pond with a skimmer or algae net.
12. Vacuum the algae from the pond with a pond vacuum.
13. Place barley straw in a location that provides a good flow of water and sunlight. The barley straw will decompose adding hydrogen peroxide to the water, killing the algae.
14. Color the water using a dye made specifically for treating pond water. The dye will color the water making it dark and harder for sunlight to penetrate to the depths of your pond.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What can you accomplish is just an hour, an afternoon, or a day?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have an unlimited amount of time to work on your garden’s to-do list! But between our careers, family, household chores, volunteer activities this is nearly impossible to do and often our wish list is often left unfinished. But if we admit it even the busiest gardener can spare a day, an afternoon or even an hours now and then. And believe it or not you can achieve quite a bit with some simple projects and they won’t ruin your budget, either.

If you have an hour try these ideas:
• Add flair to your chairs with a simple coat of paint. Pick some lively colors and they don’t have to match. For a little more pop add some bright pillows to your chairs. Buy them now while they are reduced in price or if you have more time make them from scrapes left over from other projects.

• Make a reading nook. Look for a quiet, tucked away place in the backyard. Add a comfy chair in a shady spot. Use a canopy or umbrella is you don’t have a shade tree. Arrange an assortment of fragrant and or colorful flowers in containers and place them nearby.

• Brighten your nightlife outdoors in the evening with some glow-in-the dark acrylic paint. Paint a few containers or stones to brighten your yard in an unexpected way. I have the paint but haven’t been able to use them yet.
• Fill in bare spots. Look for an empty spot along your fence or a blank wall and hang up some outdoor art. Use a planter or pot to fill in bare spots in the garden.

If you have an afternoon:
• End a boring floor by painting a concrete deck or patio. If you artistic try painting a rug on the deck or patio. Or just buy and install a weatherproof rug to add some comfort to your outdoor space.

• Install solar lights, they are simple to use and can add a lot of appeal to the nighttime garden. Adding white flowers nearby will make your garden glow in the moonlight.
• Mosaics in a minute. Repurpose old bowling balls into garden art by gluing on tiles, flat-backed marbles, coins or mirrors; let it dry and add grout. Or paint on a design. Spruce up plain stepping stones by adding mortar and positioning mosaics on top.

• Start Composting, it only takes a few supplies and an afternoon to build your own compost bin. Simple plans are easy to find on the internet.

If you have a full day:
• Mulch and edge beds. This really makes your beds look polished. If you don’t already have a barrier or it needs upgrading you can do it fairly easily with bricks, rocks or pavers for a finished look that also makes mulching easier!
• Make a rain barrel. You can buy one but if you want to save a little money make and decorate one yourself. If the blue barrel look isn’t for you, you can paint it or make one from a whiskey barrel or garbage can. All can be transformed into attractive rain barrels.

• Add wow to your windows with window boxes. They instantly add charm and value to your home. Make them with leftover lumber, and then add your own personal touches and no-fuss flowers. Succulents might be good for you in case you forget to water!

• Raise your vegetable garden with simple raised beds. With just a few pieces of lumber, soil and compost will set you up for growing your favorite veggies.

See if you can find time to try a one or two of these ideas in your garden this summer.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hydrangea Care: Pruning

I know it has been a while since I was able to blog. But summer got off to a busy start with my grandchildren visiting from Memorial Day weekend through July 4th Holiday. I did get some help in the garen though. It was a lot of fun but didn’t leave much time for blogging!

I fell in love with Hydrangea shrubs when I spent summers with my maternal grandparents. They were great gardeners and I suspect that is where I developed a love of gardening. They had a wonderful vegetable garden, fruit trees and vines and my grandmother Barrick had lovely roses, but it was the huge hydrangea bushes that impressed me as a child. I was not successful growing them when I lived in coastal central Florida but was able to grow them while living in Georgia and now here in coastal South Carolina. My shrubs are not as big as my grandmothers yet and that could be because of the difference in soil. But this year I did have one plant produce a flower almost as big as I remember from my childhood!

When I started to plant Hydrangeas in my coastal Carolina home I had two problems. First was a lack of afternoon shade, so they often struggled until some of my trees started to produce some afternoon relief. But now that most have been in the same place for 8 years they handle most weather conditions pretty well, except for an extended drought. Then I must water often. The second was a lack of space, so I don’t have as many varieties of plants as I would like. But I love the ones I have!

Several of my shrubs are planted in areas where they do not need to be pruned. For them I only need to remove dead stems and dead head blooms and this can be done at any time. My problem comes with the couple I have planted near windows. Originally they were planted there to provide afternoon shade from the two story house. I did relocate 3 plants that were very large (that was a job!) but decided that I would just try to prune the others to keep them from blocking views. Now the best time to prune them is after they bloom. This should be done in June or July. Well in June mine are usually still in full bloom and by July I have either forgotten or it is too hot and I put it off.

This may not seem like a problem but is for hydrangea types that bloom on OLD WOOD. This group of hydrangeas produces flower buds on hydrangea stems around August, September or October for the following summer's blooms. If those stems are removed (pruned) in the fall, winter, or spring, the bloom buds will be removed, and there may be little or no bloom the following summer. (Don’t confuse deadheading with pruning. You can deadhead any time of the year.)

There exists a small group of mophead hydrangea that will bloom no matter when they are pruned. I have an 'Endless Summer' that is this type of hydrangea. Your garden center can tell you when you purchase a hydrangea if it is in this special category called "ever-bloomers." But for the vast majority of hydrangeas, pruning after July will likely result in fewer blooms the next summer.


(1) All dead stems should be removed from hydrangeas every year.

(2) After the plants are at least 5 years old, about 1/3 of the older (living) stems can be removed down to the ground each summer. This will revitalize the plant.

(3) In addition, if it becomes necessary to prune a plant to reduce its size, it may be cut back in June or July without harming the next year's bloom. But it will return almost immediately to its former size. This is one reason why it's best to plant a hydrangea where it does not have to be pruned.

I have one other Hydrangea that is different from the one I have already mentioned it is a PeeGee called ‘Limelight’.
Pruning for H. arborescens (Annabelle types) and H. paniculata (PeeGee types) hydrangeas can be done in fall, winter or spring and it is not necessary to prune them every year. It is suggested that one trim out crossing branches and those that do not contribute to an attractive form whenever necessary. These types of hydrangeas bloom on new wood (new stems). It is a joy to grow these type hydrangeas because they are determined to bloom every single year, no matter how they are treated. The only time they cannot be pruned is in the spring ('Annabelle') or in the summer (PG) when they are preparing to bloom.

When my PeeGee ‘Limelight’ didn’t bloom last year I discovered that it requires more sunlight (about 5 hours) to bloom and it was in a densely shaded area. So I relocated it to a spot where I hope it is getting enough light to bloom this summer. I hope you find this information helpful. This year I will be pruning my mopheads and lacecaps this week!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rain Gardening

I decided to make a small rain garden in a spot where one of our rain barrels overflows.

You might wonder: What is a Rain Garden? In simple terms it is a shallow depression that is planted with deep-rooted native plants and grasses. The garden should be positioned near a runoff source like a downspout, driveway or sump pump to capture rainwater runoff and stop the water from reaching the sewer system.

Your next question might be: Why plant a rain garden? Backyard rain gardens are a fun and inexpensive way to improve water quality and enhance the beauty of your yard. When placed between stormwater runoff sources (roofs, driveways, parking lots) and runoff destinations (storm drains, streets, streams) a rain garden captures runoff from your driveway or roof and allows it to soak into the ground, rather than running across roads, collecting pollutants, and delivering them to a stream. Plants and soil will work together to absorb and filter pollutants and return cleaner water through the ground to nearby streams.

You may wonder: What about mosquitos? The rain garden fills with a few inches of water after a storm, and the water slowly filters into the ground. Because water is only in the rain garden for a day or two, it doesn’t become a breeding ground for mosquitos?

My garden was a small experiment just to see how it would handle the overflow from my rain barrel. I wish I had learned about this garden idea before I originally laid out plans for my backyard landscape (Yes I did initially have a landscape plan and mostly followed it!) so I could have incorporated it into plan from the beginning. My little creation may not be a classic rain garden but it seems to be holding up to our rain.

My biggest problem was keeping the dogs out of it while my plants are getting started. Annabelle liked to eat the tops off plants and thought it was a nice cool spot to take a nap and Maggie just liked to walk through the middle right over the plants. So I put up a small portable fence leaving a small cut through for the dogs on one end of the garden. This was one of their orginal pathways into the yard from the back porch.

Keep in mind that Rain gardens work best when constructed in well-drained or sandy soils, but they can also be installed on sites with less permeable soils such as clays but may need some additional work.

You can easily find books and information on rain gardens. Some you may find helpful are from the Clemson HGIC or your local area extension office.
Another good source Rain

Hope this gives you an idea for your own yard.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gardening for Birds & Other Wildlife

I was surprised and happy to see an Indigo Bunting in my yard for the first time since fall migration in 2009. One reason I was so excited was because when we moved from the Atlanta, GA area I left behind a wonderful habitat for wildlife for a yard with no habitat. I traded a yard with 30+ trees and multitude of shrubs and flowers to a yard with 2 pine trees and a scrubby small oak tree.

I was used to seeing Northern Cardinals, Robins, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Towhee’s, Carolina Wrens & Chickadee’s, Eastern Bluebirds and Redheaded woodpeckers nest in my yard. I wasn’t sure how to start when the Master Gardener coordinator from Gwinnett County, GA emailed me about the NWF Backyard Habitat program. So I went to the NWF website and started implementing their 4 steps for creating a wildlife friendly garden/backyard. When I look at my yard 9 years later it is hard to believe it is the same yard.

I attribute seeing more variety of birds in my yard to the maturing of my garden. My work over the years seems to be paying off. So I thought I’d blog about gardening for wildlife again and encourage you to give it a try if you haven’t tried it yet. I've added and rework my planting areas over the years to incorporate Food, water sources, cover from predators and nesting areas. My bluebird box was immediately occupied in Feb. 2005 when first installed and has been used every year since. Carolina Chickadees and Carolina wrens have also nested in the yard. Ruby throated Humming birds, Cardinals, Brown Thrashers, Brown headed nuthatches, Red headed woodpeckers, Downy woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse visit my feeders and bring their babies to feed and bathe in our garden.

It's not hard to get started at all. One of the easiest things to do is just add a bird bath. This can be especially important in dry months or droughts. Here are some ideas for getting started in your own yard.

FOOD: I relied heavily on bird feeders early on and still use them to feed birds when natural food in not available and as a supplement. But I have added Native forbs*, plants, shrubs and trees provide the foliage, nectar, pollen, berries, seeds and nuts many wildlife species require to survive.Blueberries are a favorite food for the Mocking birds who visit our yard.

WATER: All wildlife needs a clean source of water for drinking and bathing and reproduction. Since I don’t have a natural lake, river, pond, ocean, stream or wetland in my backyard I use man made water sources. The easiest way of course is to use a bird bath. I have several in my yard set a different heights including one at ground level. One is a small fountain with recirculating water that small birds love. The ground level is a favorite with some of my shyer and larger visitors. We even see occasional opossums visit our 250 gallon pond with waterfall. One pool of the waterfall is shallow with flat rocks and birds will bathe and drink from it as well. The sound of that pond can attract the wildlife as well. I have recently created a small rain garden I’m hoping to create a puddling area for butterflies.

COVER: I didn't have a lot of cover when we first moved to this house. I had to wait for trees and shrubs to grow up. After 9 years they are producing a fair amount of cover and shade that was missing from my landscape. Wildlife need places to feel safe from people, predators, and inclement weather. Behind my back fence is a small wooded buffer area that provides some cover now and early on. Thickets and brush piles offer great cover with bushy leaves and thorns. I started and keep a brush pile that can be used by birds and other wildlife. Our pond is home to several frogs and we have a toad abode as well. The rock of the waterfall is home to several skinks and anoles.

PLACE TO RAISE YOUNG: Wildlife need places to reproduce, bear and raise their young, and see their young survive to adulthood, all safe from predators, bad weather and human interference. Forming a wildlife habitat creates a place for the complete life-cycle of a species to occur, from tadpole to frog, from caterpillar to butterfly. Many of the cover features in your habitat can also serve as a place for raising young. Consider a wildflower patch for butterflies to lay eggs, constructed birdhouses for nesting birds, ponds for amphibians and fish are places for raising young.

I'm also adding a host plant garden for butterflies to complement what I've been doing for the birds and other wildlife that visit our yard. I'll talk more about that in a later blog.

May is Garden for Wildlife Month and it is a great time to make your yard friendlier to wildlife. It doesn't matter if you’re a first time gardener with only a small space on your patio for containers or if you are an expert gardener with acres to plant. If you take the challenge and turn your yard, garden or outdoor spaces into a habitat for wildlife consider becoming a certified wildlife Habitat with National Wildlife Federation.

*Forb: A broad-leaved herb other than a grass, especially one growing in a field, prairie, or meadow