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, October 29, 2010

Top 10 Reasons to Plant Trees

An old recommendation that has always stuck with me says, "Plant acorns on 40 foot centers." This graphically contrasts the size of a small seedling with the depth and breadth of a mature oak. When a 
shade tree is planted, it is for future generations to enjoy.. Most people like trees and relate to them on a personal level, so here are some reasons to plant a tree this fall-- and when you think of some more, go 
ahead and add them in the comment section!

1. Trees increase property values by softening harsh outlines of buildings, screening unsightly views and providing brilliant fall color. Slow-growing, small ornamental trees are intrinsically valuable. Trees add beauty and grace to any community setting, making life more enjoyable, peaceful, relaxing. Trees offer a rich inheritance for future generations. 
2. Trees reduce air conditioning utility bills for cooling during summer heat an average of 33% percent 
through their shade and respiration, providing natural "low-tech" cooling. This reduces the need to build 
additional dams, power plants, and nuclear generators.  Deciduous trees provide passive solar 
temperature regulation, providing shade in summer, but offering light during winter. 

3. Tree shelters and windbreaks reduce heating bills in winter, increase snow entrapment, wind reduction 
and wildlife habitat. Living snow fences hold snow away from roads, keeping roads open and reducing 
road maintenance costs. Tree shelters for wildlife habitat and livestock reduce weight loss during cold 
winter months and provide shade for moderating summer heat, along with significantly increasing crop yields 
compared to fields with no windbreaks. Windbreaks create a more favorable micro-climate for cropland 
by reducing wind and heat stress on the crop, while preventing topsoil loss and reducing soil moisture losses.

4. After leaves drop to the ground in autumn and are raked, they provide excellent mulch for flowerbeds
and gardens, as well as exercise for people raking them.

5. Trees provide nutmeats (pecans, walnuts, hickory, hazelnuts), fruit (peach, apple, plum, persimmon), berries for jams and jellies (chokecherry, buffaloberry), and maple syrup, and pharmaceutical  products (for example, Taxol from Taxus or Yew trees in the Pacific NW has been successful in fighting breast, ovarian and lung cancer. 

6. Trees help reduce stress in the workplace, increase the speed of recovery of hospital patients and instill community pride.  

7. Forests provide summer and winter range for migratory birds.  

8. Trees reduce soil erosion and water pollution, help recharge ground water and sustain streamflow. Forests 
provide watersheds for lakes and ponds. 
9. Fast growing trees provide fuelwood for stoves and fireplaces by establishing a continuous supply of 
energy plantations, while managed forests provide pulpwood, lumber, plywood, veneer and other wood 
products on a sustained yield basis.
10. Trees alleviate the “Greenhouse Effect” by absorbing carbon. A single tree absorbs about 13 pounds of CO2 per year, and one acre of new forest sequesters around  2.5 tons of carbon annually. Planting 100 million trees in the U.S. would reduce the amount of carbon by an estimated 18 million tons per year.  
So why wouldn't you pick out a tree and plant it this autumn? 

SOURCES: Kim Coder UGA Extension, Glenn Roloff USDA Forest Service;

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Quick Note: Growing Hot Peppers in the Kitchen Garden

Now that the season is drawing to a close, I've decided I love the look of red fruit pods on pepper plants in the kitchen garden. There’s a website called Ring of Fire that links 500 pepper-oriented websites together. and you can find anything on peppers (and much you never thought of) there. 

As for me, I planted a couple of unlabeled hot pepper plants last spring and they did well in the high light intensity abundant in Atlanta. They went along fine until our heat wave (most of the summer) and the night temperatures got so high that they prevented fruit set, just as it did with their “cousins,” tomatoes. Then my uneven watering, exacerbated by our extended drought, caused misshapen peppers, and also made them hotter, but they still looked pretty and bright. 

Although I don’t ever plan to grow peppers indoors, Richard K posted some great stats that apply to outdoor growing that he ‘found in a book on Annums’. You can find them as a comment on this blog from last year:

No Fruit Set (assuming flowers haven’t dropped or been aborted):
Temperatures lower  than 60.8F or greater than 89.6F

Flower Drop:
Nighttime temperatures greater than 75.2F

Best Fruit Set:
Day and Night temperatures between  60.8F and 69.8F

Pollen Germination:
Optimal temps between 68F and 77F
Pollen is harmed at temperatures above 86F
Pollen is sterile if temps are above 86F 15 days prior to anthesis (before bloom) 

Lately I’ve take the first baby steps experimenting in the kitchen. I’ve added slivers of red pepper to the leftovers of homemade chicken soup, with favorable comments from 2/3 of my family.  I added a little more ground cayenne powder for additional zing in my cheese straw recipe. And I now order 2-pepper dishes at our favorite Thai restaurant; enough to make my eyes water and my nose run. Yum. 

Late Breaking Addition:
In India, chili-pepper stems are used as the source for yogurt cultures! Wow! 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Helter Skelter;Plant a Perennial Flower Bed with Random Leftovers

There is a hawk screaming in the distance as I smilingly contemplate the robust increase in the number of species I’ve added, just by installing a little flower bed. Basically it went from one species (overgrown Liriope) to twenty+ not counting the seeds scattered to grow at will. All but 3 plants were dug from my old garden and shoe-horned into a small flower bed about 6 feet deep by 18 feet long that slopes down across the front of the house, so the drainage is wonderful. 

As it rounds a corner, the flower bed narrows considerably, but still has room for some hot sun-loving perennials on the south side of the house. 

After the Liriope was dug and bushels of it were discarded, I amended the Georgia red clay with compost and Nature’s Helper so now it’s pretty easy to dig. This flower bed gets direct morning sun and no sun at all past noon, so it is ideal for almost every perennial and azaleas too. Hope there is enough sun for the Storybook Roses I’m trying out. 

The majority of plants were planted 12 days ago; not yet time to see what will make it and what will not. Since this is Zone 7 in Atlanta, there will be plenty of time for the transplants to root in the summer-warmed soil before cold weather and hard frosts arrive. 
Here is a list of the plants I’ve included, all of them odds and ends from moving except for purchase of one pot each of Parsley, Foxgloves and English Thyme. The list is arranged according to location, with tall, medium and short plants.

Background plants
George Tabor and a second Azalea (mystery)
Swamp Sunflowers
Gold Euonymous
Amsonia hubrichtii native bluestar flower,  2011 Perennial of the Year
Digitalis 'Excelsior Hybrids'

Middle Plants
3 Storybook Roses 'Little Women' pink
Helleborus x orientalis 'Deep Purple"
Shasta Daisies
Pink daisy Mums
Daylily 'Colonel Scarborough' early yellow
Lungwort, Pulmonaria longifolia
Lemon balm
Late yellow Mums

Foreground Plants
Creeping golden lemon thyme
Upright English thyme
Japanese Roof Iris, white
Japanese Roof Iris, lavender
Lamb’s Ears
Rudbeckia triloba

 iPhone photos by gardengeri

Can you see the tiny seedling parsley? I bought a pot of young parsley and separated them and planted each long tap root in moist soil, taking care to keep everything moist and shady. Transplanting parsley is a 50/50 proposition. <<>> Let me know how you "walk on the edge" in your garden.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Shopping for a Japanese Maple Tree in Glorious Fall Color

The free, 8-foot tall, 4-in caliper Japanese maple that my friend arranged to have transplanted to her  garden held on through a year of drought, but finally gave up the good fight during the brutal heat and drought of this recently past August/September.  So I was asked to come along to offer some advice as she set out to purchase a replacement.

She is an incredibly talented interior designer/decorator, an expert with color, scale, form, symmetry and all of the elements of design, and I was lucky to be on the receiving end of her expertise on the room arrangement at our home. Her attention-to-detail extends both inside and outside-- for example, although she calls it “pink”, her house is actually a rosy-terracotta brick that goes very nicely with the purple Loropetalum and other burgundy-leafed plants she has chosen. Her annuals are mainly pink flowered to dress up three beds around the front door.

 So tasked with the idea of finding the perfect Acer palmatum cultivar, first I suggested that we page through my book on Japanese Maples (J.D. Vertrees, second Edition), which helped her decide she did not want a red-leafed tree, nor a dissectum, and she wanted it upright rather than pendulous so she could plant underneath it. 

Then I suggested she accept a Coral Bark maple that I had growing in a huge tub on the patio as a gift, but she hesitated to take it, mainly because it was “already too big”. This narrowed down our search: we needed to look for a maple that reaches only 6 to 10 feet in height.

Next we set out for the nursery. She decided that the huge nursery with the big selection favored by commercial landscapers use was too far away after all, and so we settled for a nearby garden center. Most amateur gardeners look no further than the nearest nursery for their plants. These retailers offer a wide variety of sizes of the most popular plants, and the customer can pick exactly the specimen (s)he feels would look best on his/her property. And some of the nursery employees are knowledgeable about which plants do best in the local area. The main difficulty with local nurseries is often a lack of choice because they tend to stick to the tried-and-true, but that seemed OK for this trip.

After first looking at their huge, pricy maples we found the area with 3-, 5- and up to 15-gallon trees, and what do you know? She immediately chose a red, dissected-leaf, weeping variety known as Burgundy Lace because its leaves looked good. Then we almost settled for a Viridis, another cut-leaf, weeping variety but this time green.  We were two for two on the “unacceptable: weeping dissectum types.  

As we kept looking, my friend was surprised when I examined some root systems by pulling the trees out of their containers and rejecting several with circling brown roots.  I pointed out unnaturally bent trunks and crossing branches, and soon she began to see past the leaves to the overall form and we were on our way. I suggested we did not have to buy a tree right that minute, but could shop other garden centers for a different selection, but “plant lust” was heavy on her.   

Luckily we stumbled across several young Japanese maple trees with an upright habit, and two-toned leaves, smaller and more reasonably priced.  Happy to find some vigorous white roots on one particularly graceful specimen, the label said ‘Tiger Rose’; too new to be in the second edition. Described as pink leaves in spring and gracefully intermediate habit with upright branches and trailing twigs, it was beginning to look like we were close. 

I assured her that a little marginal leaf scorch on a container-grown tree wasn’t that unusual for mid- October, and instead we should look past the leaves to the structure of the limbs and the graceful shape of the tree. Plus the price was lower because it was a smaller tree. Such a deal, she was convinced! After adding some silvery and maroon Heucheras, broad-leaved Dusty Millers and vigorously growing Autumn Ferns, we loaded the plants into her SUV, where she will plant and water them to success.    

Last two photos 'Tiger Rose'

Friday, October 8, 2010

Top 10 Steps for Soil Amendments and Bed Prep

"Fall is for planting", and the best garden preparation known is to provide a deep, enriched root run for newly transplanted plants to get a good start.  

1. Rake off duff
Typically there is a layer of dried grass, leaves and sticks that is best raked off and composted

2. Take soil samples and do a soil test
Samples are small amounts of soil taken from several locations throughout the bed, then mixed together and tested for pH and nutrient levels. Try a kit or send to the cooperative extension service. 

3. Dig out dead plants, old roots, weeds, rocks, sticks and so forth. Cobalt blue bottles, maybe. Old or dead shrubs, roots, rocks, weeds and so forth are best removed from the planting bed

4. Turn soil over leaving big chunks
Your garden spade should break through compacted soil and turn big clods

5. Top dress with compost, Nature’s Helper, Mushroom Compost, Mr. Natural, finely ground pine bark, or dampened peat moss, plus gypsum or pulverized, dolomitic lime according if your soil test  feedback calls for it
You can’t go wrong with adding organic matter: clay soils are lightened while sandy soils hold more water and loams are enriched. Add 2 or 3 inches on top of the cleaned bed. Other possibilities include blood meal, cottonseed meal, triple superphosphate, symbiotic mychorriza, well-rotted manure, well-rotted woodchips and so forth

6. Fork organic material and amendments  into soil
My spading fork prevents me from lifting soil that is too heavy

7. Water in
If you have a few hours, water in the amendments and let everything settle

8. Rake smooth
A steel rake lends a calming influence on a prepared bed. The soil should now look just like a chocolate cake. Resist rolling in it.

9. Set out plants, then plant into prepared bed
Spread out roots of container-grown plants and plant level with the top of the soil or slightly higher

10. Mulch with organic mulch
I use pine straw or ground pine bark, but pecan hulls, salt hay, compost or whatever common mulching materials are available will help protect the bed and insulate the root systems. Water thoroughly once planted. 

Photo 2 shows a bed prepared between a house, a Nandina and a border of Liriope.and spread with Nature's Helper. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Silver Sage, Salvia argentea in the Garden

I’ve been gardening in Atlanta for quite some time, carrying on a love affair with herbs and many folks know me as the herb lady. However my garden and plant interests are wide-ranging. Back around 1985 or -88 or so, I was a card-carrying member of the Royal Horticultural Society in Great Britain and therefore eligible for their seed exchange program. I poured over their list and carefully selected the limited number of seeds I was allowed to import. 

One of them was Silver Sage, Salvia argentea. None of my gardening circle of friends had ever heard of this plant, though it sounded lovely, like a lamb’s ears on steroids with big, wide, ribbed, wavy leaves frosted with long silver hairs and panicles of white Menthaceae-style flowers. Would it grow in Atlanta? It would certainly be exclusive!

Salvia argentea in flower, above. 

Later that winter my seed packets arrived in the mail and the Salvia argentea packet had five seeds in it. It was quite a production; I sowed them carefully, putting them under fluorescent grow-lights in my light garden, and 4 of them germinated! After potting up and hardening off  I shared one precious plant with my closest gardening buddy, and planted the remaining three in my Silver Garden, where they grew and thrived for three or four years. Short-lived like many salvia in Atlanta, they remained a beautiful memory. 

                                                                                                  Silver Sage top left, above
Fast forward twenty years, and perhaps you can imagine my astonishment when I saw a plant table in my local big box store loaded with millions of Silver Sage! And for $1.98 each! Although spring might be a better time to plant them here, it was amazing to see these formerly exclusive ta-ta plants available en masse, and a delight that everyone could plant these beautiful plants and enjoy them in their gardens.  

Garden Debut® speeds up this process, collapsing time as it helps its consortium of growers to get their superior and enhanced new plant hybrids and selections to the gardening public more quickly. The hummingbird on the Garden Debut® logo recently changed from hot pink to chartreuse, and look for black pots with white printing in your local garden centers this fall and next spring.  

gardengeri's photos: of her silver garden 20 years ago and of the table of Silver Sage yesterday.