Plant Preview

Welcome to Plant Preview, a blog dedicated to helping gardeners learn about gardening techniques and preview new plant cultivars. Read about new plants here first and hear how your "comrades in compost" are making use of new plant introductions in their gardens and landscapes. Blog author Geri Laufer is a life-long dirt gardener, degreed horticulturist, author and former County Extension Agent. Plant Preview is copyrighted by Geri Laufer.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Winter Blooms and Seed Sowing

Flowers Blooming in My Garden Today

Although it is late February with a cold, cloudy aspect today, there are more than a dozen flowers in bloom in my Atlanta garden.

You may notice a theme here. I think plants ought to be fragrant as well as pretty. Camellia Magnoliaflora, Camellia Nuccio’s White, fragrant Winter Honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima, fragrant Paperbush Edgeworthia papyrifera, strongly fragrant Wintersweet Chimonanthus praecox, Lenten Rose Helleborus x hybris, Christmas Rose Helleborus niger, Bearsfoot Hellebore Helleborus foetidus, Fatshedera lizei, extremely fragrant Leatherleaf Mahonia Mahonia bealei, fragrant Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis, upright White Quince Chaenomeles speciosa Nivalis, Johnny Jump Ups, Pansies, extra-fragrant Blue Hyacinths and Daffodils that have been in bloom non-stop since about January 5.

          Winter aspect of lavender
In addition to that, not exactly blooming, but lively additions to the garden are Flowering Cabbage and silver foliage of Lavender Lavendula angustifolia.

Also too good to omit is the implied promise of swelling buds on my Native Azaleas Rhododendron austrinum, R. canescens, R. alabamense and on Bay Laurel Laurus nobilis. I think it’s the first time I have had bay in bud, although these evergreen shrubs were covered with flowers on a late November trip to the south of Spain.
Winter Seed Sowing

Twitter is aflutter with people tweeting about #supersowspring, but I’m not waiting until March 21. Last weekend I scattered seeds of Shirley and Ornamental Poppy directly into the garden. I saved a whole bin of them last spring. They prefer bare soil but I have a lot of mulched areas, so I am hoping they will still come up all over the place. In the vegetable garden I cleared out excess swamp sunflower roots and I shared a clump of late chrysanthemums in order to make room to sow oakleaf lettuce seed too. It rained them in nicely the day after, but they haven't sprouted yet. Tomorrow snow and rain are expected, so it’s just as well. 

                Saved Poppy seed from last spring.

Fat buds of Native Azalea, out of focus due to wind

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Arbor Day and What To Plant


Who doesn’t love a tree?
To encourage tree planting, Arbor Day was started by J. Sterling Morgon back in 1872. Nice to think he was concerned about it even back in the day. Arbor Day is celebrated nationally on the last Friday of April (April 30 in 2010). However, in southern climates trees are best planted earlier in the spring, so Local Arbor Day comes sooner (it’s the third Friday in February [Feb. 20] for Georgia). This cool interactive map lets you find your own local Arbor Day.

So what tree to plant?
Not everyone has enough room to plant a large shade tree (James Cameron’s “Home Tree” in Avitar comes to mind), but there are small-scale ornamental trees that are perfect for home landscapes.

• Small trees are ideal and will provide colorful foliage, flowers, bark and fruit for year-round interest, and choice selections or unusual forms add landscape value. Noticeable and distinct flower- and leaf-color variations are found throughout the growing range. These variants are starting points for the selection of cultivars and varieties that are useful for almost any landscaping situation (

• Match the exposure and water conditions at the proposed site to the requirements of the tree variety.

• Coordinate with other plants and elements of the overall landscape design.

• Consider native tree varieties to connect to the natural environment and enjoy lower long-term maintenance costs due to improved plant hardiness and survival of natives.

• By choosing natives, reduce water use, decrease the need for pesticides and fertilizers, and enhance habitat for butterflies, birds and other native wildlife.

Recommended Trees
After considering available space, growth rate and soil and moisture adaptability, I came across two new varieties of small trees that are quite intriguing. These are both cultivars of the native Redbud or Cercis canadensis, and they fit the bill with four seasons of color and interest, and small size. They are offered by Garden Debut® and will be in garden centers this spring.

The first, Burgundy Hearts® Redbud, is a quick-growing native tree selection that is an attention magnet for the landscape. The attention-grabbing, outsized, heart-shaped leaves of Burgundy Hearts® Redbud are ornamental all season long. Extra large leaves resemble wine-red “hanging hearts” and retain their attractive deep coloration from the emergence of shimmering new growth in the spring, throughout the summer and through the end of the season.
Perfect wine-red hanging hearts won'e burn in the summer sun.

Appearing before the leaves in early spring (March-April), myriads of showy rosy-purple, pea-shaped flowers attract bees and humming birds. The redbud blooms up and down branches and mature trunks for two to three weeks. Cut branches make good cut flowers and may be forced indoors for earlier bloom.

With a vigorous growth rate and a practical mature height of 20 - 25 feet, this sweetie of a flowering tree matures quickly to the perfect size for suburban landscapes, lawns or streetscapes, and draws attention when planted as a specimen or grouped in commercial landscapes.

What makes it really special: the dark leaves of Burgundy Hearts® Redbud have proved much more resistant to summer leaf scorch than older maroon-leaved cultivars such as ‘Forest Pansy’ Redbud, and gardeners and the landscape industry will find this Garden Debut® introduction to be a sweet improvement. It will be available in Garden Centers this spring.

The second small tree, The Rising Sun™ Redbud, is an outstanding golden form, vigorous in growth and very heat tolerant. This peachy keen new introduction, The Rising Sun™ is destined to light up the landscape with appealing tangerine and peach-colored leaves, contributing brilliant, golden-orange, heart-shaped foliage all summer with no burning, even in full sun. With a mature height of only 12 feet, The Rising Sun™ is perfect for smaller gardens and in-town neighborhoods as well as for specimen and accent plantings.

Incredible color on small tree in the nursery.

The Rising Sun™Redbud is a vigorously growing small tree with a full, rounded shape, whose leaves hold their tangerine/gold color into autumn. Spring, a third season of interest, delivers sweet pea-type flowers, rosy-orchid in color. The flowers appear before the foliage very early and are attractive to bees and butterflies. New foliage is a brilliant rosy-apricot. Even the bark is a smooth tan with a yellowish cast, distinctive from other Redbuds.

So perhaps one of these two new native selections will be just tree you've been wanting to give your landscape a boost.

Quick List of Planting Tips
• When placing a new tree, allow adequate width to keep walkways, entryways, driveways or buildings clear of interfering branches. Many small trees, although short, can spread as much laterally as vertically. Most can be sited beneath power lines with little or no need for pruning to maintain clearance.

• Prepare the soil before planting. Loosen it several feet in all directions from the spot you wish to plant, creating a wide, saucer-shaped planting hole.

• Mulch with an organic mulch after planting to conserve moisture and to create a ring of protection around the young tree.

• Keep the tree watered during the first season while it is getting established, and enjoy a carefree bonus to the landscape in years to come.

What are your choices for a favorite small ornamental tree? It would be great if you could let me know by commenting on this blog!

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Language of Flowers

Since it's Valentine's weekend, perhaps a bit of info on the Language of Flowers might be apropos. The flower language is the original and literal way to "say it with flowers."  Each flower and herb has a meaning that has been traditionally ascribed to it over the ages. While this may seem a trifle obscure, when you get right down to it, everyone knows a little floral symbolism. For example, when one country is said to "extend the olive branch to another country" we understand that the olive branch symbolises peace. Because a mighty oak tree is so tall and solid, it is logical that the oak stands for strength, durability and steadfastness. Not for nothing are red roses a popular choice for Valentine's because they symbolize beauty, true love and passion. 

I've made a study of the Language of Flowers, and have collected many antiquarian floral dictionaries over the years. By assigning each flower or herb its proper meaning and assembling them into a little bouquet (more properly called a tussie-mussie), you can send a message or statement via the flowers. It's ideal if your recipient has a floral dictionary too, but if not, simply include the meanings in a note.

The tussie-mussie or "talking bouquet" at left contains flowers & leaves that signify young love. For example,
White Azalea means First Love
Forget-me-Not means True Love
English Daisy represents Innocence and Simplicity
Thornless Rose signifies Early Attachment
Bugle means Most Loveable  
 Hosta symbolizes Devotion
 Lilac represents First Emotions of Love
Taken all together, this lovely and fragrant tussie-mussie symbolizes Puppy Love.

Perhaps your love is more mature. For anniversaries I like to include Dogwood meaning Love Unchanged by Adversity and Ivy for Constancy and Friendship. Whatever your situation, there are flowers that say it best.
Happy Valentine's Day 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

In Atlanta Now's the Time for Rose Pruning

The rose is a rose,
And always was a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple's a rose,
And the pear is, and so's
The plum, I suppose.

The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose--
But were always a rose.
--Robert Frost "The Rose Family"
Collected Poems, 1930                                            

Just a couple of days ago, on a lovely, sunny 55 degree F. day, I got out my bypass pruners, donned my elbow-length, tough leather gloves and pruned my roses. It wasn't a moment too soon. In Atlanta shrub roses, floribundas and hybrid teas are already presenting those tight, red buds that jut out perpendicular to the green canes and declare spring is around the corner. Carefully removing deadwood and cutting tall stems down to outward facing buds, I snipped off rose hips and generally shaped them up. Now I can anticipate a flood, a veritable avalanche of roses come May.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Southeastern Flower Show Onceover Lightly

Southeastern Flower Show Onceover

The Southeastern Flower Show is a juried consumer flower show that heralds the coming of spring and has Artistic Floral Design, Discovery, Horticulture, Landscape and Photography Divisions, as well as a marketplace and programs on stage. This year visitors were invited to “Discover the Beauty of Green”. The idea was to celebrate natural beauty, green eco-friendly living, excellence in horticulture and a renewed focus on hort education.
     SFS Banner                                                                                                       

My first volunteer gig, two days before the show opened, came as it was being staged. Tension was high as landscape garden displays and floral designers hustled to get their final touches together. As a “Horticulture Passer” I helped people to identify, register, groom and enter their treasures in the hope of earning a blue ribbon. The schedule demanded that the woody stems be in flower or fruit, and we had a lovely assortment of Prunus, Daphne, Edgeworthia and Hamamelis in the hardy category, as well as a couple of lemons and a lone kumquat in the tropical class.

                                                        Woody cut stems with ribbons bestowed by judges

A few days later I volunteered with the Plant Societies at the Herb Society’s table, flanked by the Rose and Dahlia Societies, and just down from the Daffodil and Native Plant Societies. Marvelous that there’s an organization for every interest, don’t you agree?
On my tour through the Show I saw lovely veggie containers and a locally-grown food display garden.

The children’s division boasted live chickens (with eggs), and one of the table settings had an exceptinal tablecloth made of Galax leaves!

Teaching the merits of locally grown, veggies overflowed from an educational garden and a chalkboard explained plant parts as food.

In the UGA exhibit I thought I recognized Golden Dream Boxwood from Garden Debut®, a real show stopper with glamorous evergreen foliage brightly splashed and edged with gold.

I ran into some familiar faces and met some new ones. Dr. Michael Dirr was signing his books in the hort bookstore.
The Southeastern Flower Show in Atlanta continues through February 6, but there are shows in many cities around the country, so look for one near home. Do you prefer Home & Garden Shows, or Flower Shows? Let me know via your comments.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Investigating Trends in Gardening & the Green Industry

Welcome to my new blog! I want to open with a report direct from the floor of the Georgia Green Industry Association’s Wintergreen 2010 conference/trade show. I saw lots of old friends and made oodles of new ones, and while there I asked several people representing different aspects of our industry what they saw as trends for gardeners and horticulture overall.

I ran into Dave Hutsell and his enthusiastic comment was Youth! “I really think we should focus on involving the next generation of gardeners.” Without missing a beat he then listed courtyard gardens, container gardens and edible containers for decks and patios as part of the wave. Hutsell is Vice President/Sales for Greenleaf Nursery Company’s North Carolina Division. He had a boothful of beautiful plants, including some new introductions from the Garden Debut® consortium of plant breeders and growers. These are folks dedicated to the introduction of new and improved plant varieties for the landscape, the first of which will appear at Garden Centers this spring.

   Garden Debut® booth   

Next , I talked with Alan Shapiro, Owner of Grandiflora Wholesale Nursery. Shapiro will be named the 2010 recipient of the prestigious Robert McGee Balentine Horticulture Trophy at the Southeastern Flower Show on Preview night, recognizing his “significant contribution to the field of horticulture.” Shapiro spewed out a quick catalog of trends. “Edibles, edibles, edibles,” was his initial reaction, followed by rain gardens, green roofs and sedums, antiques in gardens and native plants. An insightful twist was that “tortured plants” (like corkscrews and topiary) will made from overstock, and he allowed as how he thought trends will be less meteoric but will increase at a more steady pace.

    Antiques in Grandiflora’s booth (Alan’s not an antique)

Landscape Architect Paul Ozio, ASLA, noted that the continuing trend for lower maintenance remains strong and recognized natives and native cultivars as another trend.

Jim Darden representing Star Roses indicated the trend to smaller gardens would be well served by ‘Drift’ Groundcover Roses, with smaller size, continuous bloom nine months year and low maintenance.

Finally, there was a nod to the space-saving vertical gardening trend. Mobley Plant Farm had a wall of pansies growing in flats positioned nearly vertically.

  Pansies displayed as vertical garden

So what do you see as trends in gardening and the green industry? Share your thoughts on comments.