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, July 30, 2010

Atlanta August Gardening Calendar for City Cafe' on WABE-FM

I had a real treat this morning. I was invited to chat with John Lemley about gardening at the NPR affiliate in Atlanta. The WABE-90.1 FM studio is only one half mile from my garden. Another bonus is that it was taped in advance (today) and producer Kate Sweeney promised to make us sound g-r-e-a-t! So I'm posting the notes I made prior to the interview on gardening during the month of August.

For warm climate gardeners the month of August brings a second chance at growing a garden especially if you can garden in the relative cool of the morning. There are plenty of gardening tasks for August that will keep your flower and vegetable gardens going longer. Midmonth is the time to think of cool weather crops.

Grow-Your-Own-Veggies / Locavores

Reasons to grow food in the garden: Save money, enjoy gardening, cut carbon footprint, veggie gardens are beautiful, don’t want salmonella or pesticides on the tomatoes

Summer crops like tomatoes, squash, cukes that were planted when it was still raining regularly should be coming in now. Pick squash, cucumbers and okra regularly. One over-ripe vegetable (with mature seeds inside), left on the vine will stop bloom production.
Therefore, make arrangements for neighbors to harvest and water your garden while you are on vacation.

Too many zucchini? Cook the blossoms before they turn into squash! Dunk Vidalia onion rings, squash-, daylily- or elderberry blossoms in tempura batter to make delicious fritters.

August 1st is not too late to plant more hot weather summer veggies that will allow time to mature before frost: Tomato starts, cucumbers, squash and snap bean seeds. Choose quick-ripening ones.

Still plenty of time to plant container-grown veggies- compact varieties but still need lots of water. Check on GA Governor Perdue's watering restrictions- no watering between 10 am and 4 pm.

tomato Problems we are seeing in August:
Buds but no tomatoes = too hot at night must be lower that 68-70 degrees F for fruit set
Yellowing, rotting or cracking tomatoes = too much rain
Blossom end rot = drought

Fragrant & Culinary Herbs
Cut back herbs like basil, mint and oregano by a third or a half, to prevent them from producing seed and keep them producing more fragrant leaves. 2 stems will grow after each pruning cut so the plants get bushier.

Plant small container-grown herb plants from the nursery any time: Add lime, plant in containers, in flower beds, in pine islands. Keep watered while establishing, and harvest leaves frequently

Native Rabbit-Eye Blueberries are nearing the end of their run. Pick-your-own, or make a note to plant some shrubs in your garden this fall for fruit next summer.

Prune Figs lightly now, removing the tall shoots in the middle of the bush. Fruit on horizontal limbs will dwvelop best. Water plants for plumpest figs.
Next month (September) plan and plant your cool season veggie garden with crops like lettuce, arugula, radish, carrots, kale, parsley, cilantro. (still too early for peas, sweetpeas, garlic)

Ornamentals/Flowers / Woody Shrubs

Hydrangeas, cut off faded pink and blue flowers and cut back stems by 1/3. The new growth that occurs between now and winter will produce next summer's blooms. (Everblooming varieties like PennyMac or Endless Summer can bloom on new wood from same season)

Crape myrtles are lighting up Atlanta in full bloom now! There are many sizes from low-growing 15-inch tall Rosey Carpet Crape Myrtles from Garden Debut(R) to 40-foot tall Natchez varieties.
Plumleaf azalea = red azaleas! now beginning to bloom (logo of Callaway Gardens) Rebloomers too.

Check the houseplants you've stationed outdoors for insect pests. Use soapy water to wash off insects if you find any. Fertilize houseplants. They are getting much more light now and can use the food to grow bigger, but hold the fertilizer as the days grow shorter.

Dead-Head faded flowers from salvia, zinnia, coneflower, annuals and especially petunias to encourage bushiness and the production of more flowers.

Still time to plant seed of marigold, cosmos, cleome, zinnia and dwarf sunflower. They'll make a spectacular flower show in six weeks: mid-September.

Receiving Bulb Catalogs now, writing my “Wish List”. Order spring-flowering bulbs in soon: narcissus, tulips, hyacinths, small bulbs, but plant in Oct/Nov (except for daffodils and true lilies which shouldn’t stay out of the ground longer than necessary) Trumpet Lilies crossed with Oriental Lilies = Triumphator

Pruning: Last Call to severely cut back overgrown shrubs – new growth will ripen before cold weather

Cut back mums, ironweed, swamp sunflowers, dahlias to half their height. Fertilize and water the plants now to produce a crop of late fall flowers.
Bring bouquets of garden flowers in from the garden!


Sharpen blades of lawnmowers- so they slice the leaves of grass and clover rather than tearing them.

Zoysia / Bermuda lawns—warm season lawns; dormant throughout winter. Add lime in August, and it's still the optimum time to lay sod for a new lawn because grass grows quickly in the heat.

Fescue lawns-- cool season lawn; stays green and grows throughout winter; best in early spring- wait another month and reseed Sept 1, fertilize Oct 1.

I wonder which of our topics will make the cut, down from an hour interview to 3 or 4 minutes on air? It is due to run on City Cafe 90.1 FM on Tuesday, August 10 around noon.

photo credit open source for zucchini blossom fritters

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ugly Plants: Melt Out in the Summer Heat

Spring 2010 brought plenty of rain and the blue hydrangeas were breathtakingly beautiful again, for the first year in many after a brutal 3-year drought. Gardens were thriving this spring and gardeners walked with a bounce in their steps. 

Just as summer officially began we experienced four weeks & two days with no rain at all, and 90+ degree F. temperatures, followed by a continued heatwave but with afternoon thunderstorms and high humidity. Plants that had been holding on through all these changes finally melted out. YouTube: I Melt With You
One example is the heavily felted leaves of Lambs Ears, Stachys byzantina. Lambs Ears is a plant commonly grown in children's gardens or used for edging, because it is easy to grow and the thick felt like leaves are fun to touch. They are native to the Near East, with arid or Mediterranean-like climates and are best suited to sunny, dry gardens with infertile soils. However, the silvery felt-y leaves trap moisture and humidity, encouraging crown rot in heavy clay soils and in climates with high summer humidity. Excessive moisture can result in root rot during dormant periods and crown meltout during summer months. Formerly about a yard in diameter, my patch of Lambs Ears has melted away this summer. I raked off the dead leaves opening up the branches beneath to air circulation, and I’m wondering whether it might come back from the crown this fall. Maybe not.
I had an amazing 5-foot-diameter stand of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ that recently bit the dust, too, except for a few plants around the outside rim of the clump that are flowering. Just look at this sad picture.

Even the Daylilies look bad, but I know they'll be fine because their fleshy storage roots and crowns will be unaffected.

Actually, there are still a few nice looking plants in the garden. Apparently Autumn Fern is indestructible, along with the Sun Coleus, native Coneflowers and Black-Eyed Susans. How is your garden doing?


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Container Plantings and Snow-N-Summer™ Asiatic Jasmine

Last fall I was asked to give a talk to a local garden club on container gardening. In addition to my visuals, I rounded up a large container, soil mix, plants and bulbs to do a demonstration. The familiar exhortation to use “thrillers, spillers, and fillers” to round out container plantings had me reaching for a new Garden Debut® introduction, the trailing Snow-N-Summer™ Asiatic Jasmine.

I was “tickled pink” by this cultivar’s outstanding leaf color. The best asset of any Asiatic Jasmine is its glossy, fine-textured foliage, and Snow-N-Summer™ is exceptional with striking pink-n-white new leaves that keep the smiles coming. The emerging new growth of shade tolerant Snow-N-Summer™ Asiatic Jasmine is amazingly variegated. Colors on new sprouts range from soft pink to medium rose, white, dappled green and white, and copper. Later in the season, varying shades of green develop. The best foliage color is produced in part sun to bright, dappled shade, because heavily shaded growing conditions will reduce the intensity of the foliage variegation. The colors intensify throughout the summer and persist into the winter months, perfect for year-round container plantings.

I turned pink with pleasure when I saw the container come together. This beautiful, evergreen accent ground-cover delivers appealing color year-round in the landscape, and makes a strong contribution to decorative mixed containers that are so popular in today’s upscale gardens and terraces. Snow-N-Summer™ Asiatic Jasmine performs beautifully when used in year-round containers with annuals, perennials and even shrubs or small trees. It has a moderate growth rate; in containers it trails delightfully, while in-ground it exhibits a compact spreading to mounding growth habit that can be pruned or sheared to control height and spread. Shearing also promotes new growth emphasizing the beautiful pink and white coloration.

Actually Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘HOSNS’, Snow-N-Summer™ was developed by Bob and Lisa Head, members of the Garden Debut® consortium of plantsmen. Bob notes, "Not many variegated cultivars of Asiatic Jasmine can withstand cold winters, but Snow-N-Summer™ has been evaluated over many years and shows a greater adaptability. The extremely colorful variegation is pronounced all year, and has proven very drought tolerant in above-ground containers. In spring it brightens up very quickly". The plant adapts very well to variable growing conditions and climates, and it makes a wonderful addition to any garden, with very good heat and cold tolerance in USDA Zones 7a - 9b, so it is perfect for Atlanta containers.

Do you have a pet “spiller” you use in containers?

P.S. I planted rosy pink tulip bulbs in the soil beneath the other plants to come up and bloom in the spring.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Scented Pelargoniums and Insect-repelling Plants

So, if it hasn’t rained in so long, why are the mosquitoes and gnats so troublesome this summer? In addition to noisy bug zappers, fans, clothes softener dryer sheets, citronella candles and smoke curls, highly fragrant plants or plant oils will help repel these pesky insects naturally. Pests zero in on the carbon dioxide and water vapor we exhale and the scented plants do the trick by masking these aromas.

Natural insect repellents include plants and plant oils from strongly fragrant plants such as lemongrass, lemon balm, cedar, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves, lemon, eucalyptus, thyme, basil, fennel, lavender, pine, peppermint, pennyroyal, and of course insecticidal (but organic) Neem and Pyrethrum. Scented geraniums contribute geraniol.

I am annoyed when plants are sold by wildly incorrect names. “Mosquito Plants” or “Citronella Geraniums” that I see on sale are often the lovely scented geraniums (more correctly Pelargonium) of the varieties Lemon-Rose or Skeleton Rose that have a strong lemony-sweet smell. Sometimes the diminutive parsley-like Lemon Crispum is also offered. While the true citronella plant, Cymbopogon nardus, is closely related to lemongrass, the scented pelargoniums are a delight in gardens and containers close to the picnic table where guests can stroke them to release the fragrance.

Any one of the three copies I own (!) of the 1967 classic The Fragrant Year by Helen Van Pelt Wilson and LĂ©onie Bell will provide a host of facts; the authors have a lot to say about these appealing plants with aromas of strawberry, nutmeg, apricot, ginger, apple, peppermint, pine, eucalyptus or rose, along with lemon and lemon rose. And I have found these Pelargoniums are exceptionally useful in attracting new gardeners to the fold.

Photo credit U of Minnesota Extension.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Center for Applied Nursery Research

     In 1997 a group of nursery professionals, horticultural educators and industry leaders founded the Center for Applied Nursery Research. I have only recently become aware of this group. One member of the CANR Board, Rodger Flotta of Abbey View Farm in Greensboro, Ga., is also a member of the Garden Debut(R) consortium of growers. 

     CANR is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to: 
+ Provide funding and protected facilities for needs-driven horticultural Research in an operational nursery setting following usual nursery practices.
+ Provide a managed facility and funding for ornamental horticulture research based on grower needs and conducted under commercial growing conditions.
+ Generate information to keep growers in Georgia, the Southeast and the U.S. on the forefront of new ornamental plant breeding, evaluation and introduction, as well as new nursery production techniques.
+ Provide a forum for the sharing of research results with the ornamental horticulture industry.

Projects funded for 2010 include:
Development of crop production cost analysis for break-even analysis
Pre and post weed control in nursery liners
Effectiveness and cost comparison of low dose PGR compared to manual pruning
Selection of new/under utilized native and ornamental spp for use in breeding
Evaluation of blueberry selections as edible landscape plants
Relationship between irrigation and leaching of nutrients in container production
100 outstanding conifers for the Southeast
Development of sterile plants
Evaluate non-invasive cultivars within invasive species
Indentify pathogens in irrigation water and their associated risk to nursery plants
Determine the water requirements of hydrangeas, effects of plant age, and environmental conditions
Review new University of Georgia introductions  

For more information about CANR, or to read the research results from previous years, visit