Thursday, December 29, 2011

Show Your Southern Flare

Plant of the Month:  Camellia Sasanqua

     When I think of a southern garden, two plants come to mind: magnolia and camellia.  Not all of us have the room for the magnificent magnolia, but don’t feel like you are settling for a camellia.  Camellias have been stealing the show in the garden for the past two months.  While leaves have been dropping as fast as the thermometer, the camellia has been wowing us with its winter blooms.

     The sasanqua camellia can tolerate quite a bit more sun then camellia japonica.  Sasanquas bloom in November and December.  Even when the blooms are gone, you are left with beautiful dark evergreen foliage.  Many of the older, established homes have large, beautiful camellias worked into the landscape, but they seem to be missing from many of the newer neighborhoods.  Such a shame, as these spectacular plants deserve a place in every garden.  The sasnquas range in sizes from short to tall and colors vary from white to pink to red, and sometimes a mix of all three.  There is also a variety which works wonderfully as an espalier on a wall.  So there is really no excuse for not having one in your yard. 

     Camellias have a beautiful natural shape and do not require a lot of pruning.  If it is pruned, be sure to do it shortly after blooming, as it sets its buds for next year.   Insect problems can be scale which will cause the leaves to turn yellow and fall off or spider mites which will cause the leaves to turn bronze and speckle.  These can be treated.  Proper planting and drainage can help prevent diseases associated with camellias.
      So make a New Year’s resolution to show off your southern flare and make your Northern friends envious by planting a camellia.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Meet Me Under The Mistletoe

It’s hunting season, but I’m not hunting deer. It’s time to take that trusty shotgun and hunt some mistletoe. This is the perfect time to hunt mistletoe; one: because there is no use for it any other time of the year and two: it’s easy to see, now that all the leaves are down.

The Greek word for mistletoe is Phoradendron, which means “thief of the tree”. While not a true parasite, mistletoe sure acts as one, sinking its roots into the tree and leeching nutrients from the tree to help with its photosynthesis. Found high in the branches of trees, the seed is extremely sticky, latching onto bird’s beaks or feathers or the fur of other woodland creatures and dropping off to start a new batch on a new host. Mistletoe is toxic to people, but birds rely on the berries for high-protein food and the foliage for nesting material. Butterflies lay their eggs on the plants and use the nectar for food. Mistletoe is also an important nectar and pollen food for bees. Throughout the ages, mistletoe has been used to treat an array of ailments, from leprosy, worms and labor pains to high blood pressure.

All interesting facts, but why do we kiss under a parasitical-like plant? According to Norse mythology, Balder, loved by gods and men, was felled by an arrow made of mistletoe, the only material that could hurt him. He was revived by his mother, Frigg, and she commanded anyone who stood under the plant to kiss as a reminder of how love conquered death.

So if you do decide to go on a mistletoe hunt, and even though a shotgun has a cool, woodsy image to it, take a 22 if you want any mistletoe to bring home.

Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Looking For A Sunset Bird In Winter

     This is the time of year when many people take down their bird feeders and store them away for the winter.  Many fear that feeding the birds in the winter keeps them from migrating further south, or makes them dependent on the easy meals.  Fact of the matter is, you could put a hundred feeders in your yard, but once the migratory clock is triggered, even the best seed can’t keep them from moving on.  The stragglers that do remain are either injured or sick and probably wouldn’t survive the winter.  As to worrying if birds will lose their natural ability to find food after relying on bird feeders; what few studies have been done on the subject have found that birds are very resourceful and have no problem finding food on their own.  Mother Nature has made sure that ability is not forgotten.  Bird feeders only make up 20 percent of a bird’s daily energy requirements. 
     But if you would rather not have to trudge out into the cold to fill the feeder every day, there are plenty of other ways to help out those feathered friends.  Leaving perennial seed heads till spring pruning will provide a meal for some birds and the scattered seeds may provide you with a few more plants next year. 

Plant some holly bushes; the bright berries are beautiful in arrangements or wreaths and loved by birds.  If you have been meaning to pull that Polk-berry weed out of the garden all fall, go ahead and leave it for a while longer; the mockingbirds have been boisterously enjoying mine.  The red fruit of the dogwood make for a good winter meal and junipers and cedars not only have berries but provide needed winter shelter for the birds.
     So whether you keep your feeder filled with seed or your yard filled with berries, you will be able to enjoy birds all year long.  The robins of spring are always a welcome sight, but outshined by the cardinals in winter. 

Looking For  A Sunset Bird in Winter
 The west was getting out of gold
  The breath of air had died of cold,
 When shoeing home across the white,
 I thought I saw a bird alight.

In summer when I passed the place
 I had to stop and lift my face;
A bird with an angelic gift
Was singing in it sweet and swift.

No bird was singing in it now.
A single leaf was on a bough,
And that was all there was to see
In going twice around the tree.

From my advantage on a hill
I judged that such a crystal chill
Was only adding frost to snow
As gilt to gold that wouldn't show.

A brush had left a crooked stroke
Of what was either cloud or smoke
From north to south across the blue;
A piercing little star was through.
                                      Robert Frost

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Fine Day For A Dip In The Pool

     Over the year I have meet quite a number of water gardeners so this article is directed to them or any of the readers who hope to become water gardeners … so that should pretty much cover everyone.

     It is that time of year to clean out the pond for the winter so it will be in the best possible condition when spring arrives, hopefully sooner than later.  By this time of year I have cut way back on the feeding of my fish and will stop all together in the next week or so.  The fish metabolism has slowed way down and once the water temperature reaches 45 degrees fish stop digesting food, so any undigested food can become toxic to the fish. 

                   Cut back the lily pads on your hardy water lilies and drop them to the deepest part of the pond.  Tropical lilies usually do not winter-over.  Marginal plants will winter over as long as the plant’s crown is a few inches below the water level.  Get out as many leaves as you can.  A net or a pond vacuum can be quite helpful, but nothing beats a chilly dip on a warm day if you really want to get it clean.  Too many leaves left in the pond causes too much nitrogen in the pond which leads to algae in the spring along with other problems.  Cut back other water plants and remove the dead.  Check your skimmer and filters for debris.  I leave my steam running all year; this provides circulation and keeps the pond from freezing solid on those rare occasions when it has gotten cold enough.  An opening in the ice is necessary to release toxic gasses which can kill fish and plants.  Don’t forget to check the water level occasionally.  Evaporation may not be as big of a problem as it is in the summer, but it is still occurring, so don’t let the water get too low.
     The weather may not be ideal for cleaning time, but a true water gardener knows, in the end, it is well worth it.  So, go with the flow and look for a good deal on wading boots.