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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Consider Cotoneaster as a Groundcover

Groundcover plants, often overlooked in the plant pantheon, are hard workers in the landscape and solve many design challenges. Groundcovers help to define space and unify elements of the landscape; they’re used to soften hardscapes, add texture and provide transition between the lawn and taller plants. When sited correctly they can prevent soil erosion and slow weed growth.

Of course lawns are groundcovers, ubiquitously used to frame architecture. But consider that groundcovers can be woody or herbaceous, spreading, running, vining or clump-forming, evergreen or deciduous, and can range in height from an inch to four feet.

Northern Borders™ Cotoneaster is a low-maintenance groundcover choice that is tough, adaptable and requires little pruning, with no serious insect or disease problems. This Garden Debut® introduction is moderate-growing and can be massed for sunny areas in the landscape including banks and slopes where it can also provide some erosion control. A valuable woody groundcover, Northern Borders™ Variegated Cotoneaster hugs the ground, maturing at two to three feet and with a generous spread of five to eight feet! Northern Borders™ sprawls over rocks in rock gardens, cascades over stone walls and mounds at patio edges.

The leaves of Northern Borders™ Variegated Cotoneaster are edged with a shimmer of white.
As far as the beauty goes, Northern Borders™’s outstanding blue-green foliage rimmed in white produces an overall silver effect in the landscape. This beautiful, dense-growing cultivar is fine-textured and semi-evergreen, and the noteworthy leaves persist until late in autumn when they change to a lovely orange-red color. In winter the leaves fall, revealing the celebrated “fan” or “herringbone” branch pattern for which this species is known. An added bonus, this branching provides a good habitat for ground nesting birds.

In the vertical dimension, Northern Borders™ Cotoneaster is a good subject for espalier and offers four seasons of interest no matter what form. The silver-edged leaves are prominent in summer. In spring, rosy buds open to tiny white flowers along the cinnamon-colored twigs. Later, the plant is laden with shiny scarlet fruit (1/4 inch) liberally sprinkled throughout. These berries add color throughout winter, sparkling in the winter sun and providing food for songbirds and wildlife.

Learn more about Northern Borders™ Variegated Cotoneaster at Garden Debut®.

Statistics for Northern Borders™ Variegated Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster horizontalis ‘Variegatus’ Selection

Plant Category: Woody shrub
Mature Height: 2 - 3 feet
Mature Spread: 5 - 8 feet
Mature Form: Horizontal spreading groundcover
Branching: Cinnamon-brown branches with attractive fan or fishbone pattern becoming tiered over time
Growth Rate: Moderate, low maintenance, durable, no serious pests
Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type: Loam, Sand, Clay
Soil Moisture: Moist, well-drained; adaptable to drought when established
Roots: Wide-ranging
Flower Color: Tiny rosy buds open to white flowers (1/2 inch)
Bloom Season: May – June
Berries: Bright scarlet red, small (1/4 inch), persistent throughout Winter, excellent songbird food especially after frost sweetens the berries; nesting habitat
Foliage: Blue-green foliage (to 3/8 inch) is edged in white, persists through late fall
Fall Color: Lovely red-orange fall color, becoming deciduous in early winter
pH Level: 5.5 – 7.5
Zones: 5 – 8
Heredity: U.S., Greenleaf Nursery Selection, Park Hill, OK

When performance counts, use Garden Debut® introductions!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

White Terrestrial Orchids now blooming in my garden!

   A gaggle of white terrestrial orchids are blooming on both sides of the path in my shady garden. My friend Mary couldn't believe they 1. grew in the ground, 2. liked rain, and 3. stayed outside all winter, and she had to be convinced. I brought her a pseudobulb and planted it in a raised bed in her garden amongst her Lilies-of-the-Valley. Perhaps they will aspire to become more like the orchid.
   I cut off the flowering stem and put it in a bud vase for her to enjoy, thus allowing the products of photosynthesis to be used to form roots rather than seeds and so grow into a strong plant. I realy like the pleated leaves which are about the same height as the flower stems.
   Bletilla striata 'Alba' flowers last quite a while, at least 4 weeks, and the graceful seed pods resemble a gooseneck-- or maybe a swan's graceful curve?-- lasting until next year's flowers.
   I ran across these orchid plants quite unexpectedly at a Big Box store, on a rolling rack pushed in the back by the bags of Nature's Helper, away from the other perennials. Who would have thought? I bought them all. They have been in the ground four years now and have multiplied quite nicely, spreading into drifts. I planted them high, and mulched with leaf litter and compost, but after that I have done nothing else. They're quite easy to look after, at least in Atlanta's Zone 7 climate.
I've got them planted beneath a couple of Pin Oaks, where the soil gets pretty dry. They gets slanting sunshine early in the morning but otherwise are shaded. They're not native, though; you can tell because they're sometimes called China Orchids or Hyacinth Orchids. Normally they do come in an orchid (purple) color, but these are the white form, and I love them! I hear there's a white-flowered, white-variegated- leaf form, but I've only seen it in photos and never for sale.
   My friend Adam of Terrestrial Landscape & Design is installing a whole garden of many types of terrestrial orchids for a client. Doesn't that sound dreamy? Do you grow any orchids in your garden?

   BTW, the vine climbing up the oak trunk is Schizophragma hydrangeoides 'Moonlight'. It has reached the same level as the second floor windows.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day 1970 to 2010

Back in the day protests were de rigueur and there were Love-Ins, Sit-Ins and Laugh-Ins. The first-ever Earth Day 1970 was intended to be an Environmental Teach-In.

Rachel Carson’s consciousness raising 1962 book Silent Spring had alerted the public to possible consequences of uncontrolled pesticide use. In 1968 NASA’s (Apollo 8) first photos of the whole earth as viewed from space transformed the perception of a limitless and indestructible “Mother Earth” to the model of a beautiful blue planet, our fragile “Spaceship Earth”. People started getting it.

The First Earth Day
Marking the beginning of the Modern Environmental Movement, on April 22, 1970 thousands of local schools and universities organized protests against environmental deterioration including loss of wilderness, oil spills, pollution, toxic dumps, pesticides and wildlife extinction. Anti-littering was big that year, providing an action step people could wrap their heads around.
Founder U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (Wisconsin) noted “Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. No one had the time or resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.” In later years, when the national focus had shifted to conspicuous consumption and keeping up with the Joneses, Earth Day was relegated to the back burner, surfacing about once a decade.

Earth Day 2010
Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, this year Earth Day focuses on environmental conservation including climate change and global warming, advocacy, conservation and biodiversity, food and agriculture, recycling and waste reduction, sustainable development, energy and fossil fuel alternatives, and water. Big concepts, but take your own green step and plant a garden, or coach a child to do so. Or maybe your child can coach you, as in Allison Areiff's NYT column today: My goal is to make Earth Day a daily consideration, not just an annual one. What about you?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Baby Gem Boxwood is a Valuable Addition to the Landscape

Boxwood is a versatile evergreen shrub with a broad range of forms and sizes that has long been a treasured hedging plant in the garden. Fossilized boxwood leaves and fruit have been discovered dating back approximately 22.5 million years. In Roman times, atria in affluent villas were landscaped with formal boxwood plantings used to frame garden spaces, paths, or doorways. Sculpted or 3-dimensional topiary was/is another use for boxwood, since the dense branching and small leaves supported close shearing. The shapes act as anchors, finials, and ornamentation in the garden. In the Middle Ages, parterres, rose gardens and knot gardens also employed boxwood.

"Man's Oldest Garden Ornament," was introduced to North America from Europe in the mid-1600s and reached peak popularity in the United States during the early 19th century and again during the Colonial Revival era. There are many classic plantings such as the one at Mount Vernon. When I lectured at Colonial Williamsburg I learned it boasts seven miles of boxwood hedges.

The Latin name Buxus sempervirens was given to boxwood by Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus in 1753. Buxus means “box” and sempervirens means “evergreen.” The wood of boxwood is highly regarded. It is firm, smooth grained, strong, uniform, has great elasticity and its shrinkage is minimal when dried. It has been used to make beautiful jewel boxes, combs, wood inlays, carved ornaments, utensils, tablets, and flutes.

Today, Baby Gem Boxwood, a new cultivar presented by Garden Debut®, is a valuable addition to the landscape. The vigorous littleleaf boxwood is an exceptionally compact plant with a dense, multi-branched habit, easy to grow and robust in the landscape overall. This broadleaf evergreen vigorously grows a little taller than it is wide, resulting in a rounded form.

Fine-textured, the tiny, lustrous leaves are abundant and add a distinctive color note, retaining their rich, emerald-green color particularly well in winter. Baby Gem Boxwood’s extremely small, lustrous leaves provide a matte effect even when formally sheared or sculpted, since the tiny leaves don’t show shearing cuts.

The brisk growth rate makes Baby Gem Boxwood ideal for carefree hedging in a wide area of the U.S. It is an emerald gem of a foundation plant, excellent for edging, and may be clipped for parterres, topiary and formal gardens. The vibrant green hue provides an exceptional backdrop for brilliant annual and perennial flowers and statuary.

Other splendid characteristics of this garden gem include deer resistance and tolerance of dry soils once established. Baby Gem Boxwood flourishes in conditions of sun to shade, and benefits from an organic mulch to keep roots cool. Look for Baby Gem Boxwood in garden centers this spring.

For more information about proper cultivation and landscape applications of boxwood, or to find fellow boxwood lovers, visit the American Boxwood Society website.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dogwood Blossom Wedding Cake

Here's an addendum to my previous Dogwood post that goes out to all my bride-friends and their Moms.

When assembling a program entitled "20 Favorite Native Plants for Georgia Gardens", of course I included the native flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida among my picks. I came across this wonderful wedding cake image on Google Images, courtesy of Southern Living Magazine.

This also ties into a Huffington Post article I saw today on Tips for a Green Wedding.

Happy trails . . .

Monday, April 12, 2010

Gift of a Free Rutgers Dogwood

The 74th annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival is this weekend, and trees all over Atlanta are blooming. Coincidentally, last Saturday night an email from an old friend informed me that she had just dug up a "Rutgers dogwood" and wondered if I would like to plant it in my garden, or if she should put it on Craig's List? Being a Rutgers Alum and a practical sort that loves free plants I said, "Sure I would like it!" even though I had my doubts about planting it this late in the spring. Ideally, woody ornamentals and trees are planted in October or November in Atlanta, while the soil still retains some warmth from the summer and the leaves are off the tree relieving water stress.

Since there’s already a large young Florida dogwood on one side of our house, I actually had been meaning to plant a similar one on the other side, so this offer seemed serendipitous. Considered by many as the best all-round flowering trees, Dogwoods are best-loved for their outstanding display of spring flowers, and there are three main types of dogwoods grown in the eastern U.S.

The most spectacular flower display is delivered by the native Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) on bare branches, a brilliant show of bright white or pink flowers in early spring before the leaves emerge. This species is also valued for its horizontal branching habit, interesting red “football-shaped” fruit, and burgundy/red fall color. Unfortunately, the native Dogwood is susceptible to Anthracnose, a fungus disease that killed a large number of trees in the 1980s and 90s.

The Kousa or Japanese Dogwood (Cornus kousa) from Asia flowers nearly a month later after the leaves are out, but its flowers have pointed bracts, not like the familiar native dogwoods. Kousa Dogwoods are valued for their fall color, raspberry-like fruit and interesting bark, and best of all, they are resistant to Anthracnose.

Rutgers Hybrid Dogwoods are the third type, lying between the first two. A long-term project by Rutgers University Prof Dr. Elwin Orton involved inter-specific crosses between the two species to produce hybrids resistant to Anthracnose. The resulting varieties of Dogwood combine many of the good traits of both types of tree.

So Sunday morning we met in the parking lot before church and transferred the tree from her car to ours. The Dogwood turned out to be quite a bit larger than I had realized, nearly 12 feet tall! All but the smallest amount of soil had fallen from its severely-cut root system, making it a bare-root plant. Leaf buds were just beginning to break although there weren’t any flower buds.

I loosened the soil in a 4- or 5-foot circle and centered a planting hole just deep enough to keep the tree at the same level it had been growing. I made sure it was standing straight, then replaced the rich topsoil all around it and watered it in thoroughly. (Photo at left shows the young trunk amidst native azaleas, creeping phlox and assorted perennials.) I’ll be keeping my eye on it, abnd watering to make sure it does not dry out until the roots get established in the soil. I’m not sure which of the introductions my gift Dogwood is, perhaps Celestial, Constellation or maybe even Stellar Pink. Guess I’ll worry about that once I know if it’s going to live.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Top 10 Ingredients for Homemade Compost

Easy Finds for Homemade Compost

1. Weeds (before they go to seed)
2. Spent garden plants and flowers (disease-free only; get rid of diseased plants by putting in the outgoing garbage)
3. Shrub prunings and old Christmas trees (slow to break down, so best if chopped up)
4. Wood ash (from clean-burning fireplaces; wood only, no firestarter logs)
5. Coffee grounds and tea leaves
6. Discarded jack-o-lanterns, fruit and veggie peelings, bruised/rotted kitchen produce
7. Autumn leaves
8. Sawdust and wood chips (added in thin layers so they don’t clump)
9. Grass clippings (chemical- and herbicide-free; added in thin layers so they don’t clump)
10. Aquatic plants (when thinning garden pond)