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.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Native Beauties: Garden Debut Redbuds in Garden Center Magazine

Among the many redbuds available from Garden Debut(R), three native beauties made an appearance in the Spring Profit Centers insert of the January 2011 issue of the celebrated Garden Center Magazine.

The three Redbuds included The Rising Sun Redbud (TM), PPAF, Burgundy Hearts Redbud (R) PP 19654 and Ruby Falls Redbud (TM) PPAF

Here's a scan of the story from the magazine!

 Hope you'll be trying these this spring!  

Friday, January 21, 2011

Forcing Flowering Branches to Bring Spring Indoors Early

Got Seasonal Affective Disorder, a.k.a. the winter blahs? Cause Spring to arrive ahead of schedule by forcing flowering branches of woody ornamentals indoors. Any deciduous shrub or tree that flowers in early spring is a good candidate for forcing, although shrubs typically flower a bit more easily. Try Redbud, Spirea, Viburnum, Mahonia (Oregon Grape), Quince, Pussy Willow, Japanese Rose (Kerria), Flowering Cherry, Plum or Flowering Almond, Apple, Crabapple or Pear, Magnolia branches or the ubiquitous Forsythia.

Enjoy these blooms at home, or enter your cut stems of woody ornamentals in in a public Flower Show and win a blue ribbon!  For example, the Southeastern Flower Show is Feb. 25-27 with entries the day before, and there are two classes to enter: "Cut Specimens-Woody" Class H08 and "From the Outside In . . .A Musical Arrangement" Class H11, both in the Horticulture Division. 

After experiencing about eight weeks of outdoor temperatures in the 40s or below in the garden, most woodies will be ready to force. In addition to watching the calendar (late winter), swelling buds on garden plants are another good indicator. It will take anywhere from a week to nearly two months for the buds to turn into flowers while being forced. Keep in mind, the closer to the normal flowering date, the more readily the flowering branches can be forced into bloom.

Pick a day in January or February when temperatures have been above freezing. Before going out, first disinfect a deep bucket with detergent or a bleach solution, rinsing thoroughly. Then fill with warm (not hot, not cold) water and add a cut flower preservative. Commercial “cut flower food” provides both elaborated sugars that are normally supplied through photosynthesis and a disinfectant to reduce the growth of bacteria that can clog the vascular (water conducting) tissues.  Rosie Lerner and Michael Dana of the Perdue Department of Horticulture offer three recipes for make-your-own preservative solutions that will prolong the life of the flowering branches in Forcing Branches for Winter Color: .

Use sharpened bypass pruners or a sharp knife to harvest branches on your target plants.  Flower buds are generally rounder and larger than leaf buds, so choose branches with lots of potential flowers. Keep an eye on the overall shape of the shrub or tree as you cut and cut a few extra branches because some may not absorb water, and also they are great to share with friends or take to the office.

Quickly get those branches into water. Re-cut each stem on an angle to increase the surface area and ensure that it won’t sit flat on the bottom of the vase. Split or score the bottom inch or two of each stem to expose the conductive tissues (cambium layer) and encourage maximum water uptake and plunge them into the waiting vase. Trim off any buds or twigs that will be submerged under water so they won’t rot.

Cover the branches with a voluminous plastic bag (dry cleaner bags are great for this) and place in a cool room (50-60 degrees F.) out of direct sunlight. Check them frequently to see how they are coming along and to refresh the water, and when beginning to bloom, bring them into warmer temperatures. 

Compose a beautiful arrangement either with forced branches alone or by including other spring flowers.  Choose the most delightful decorative vase and enjoy them for a week or two. Prolong the display by moving them into a cool garage or breezeway each night.

And when the blooms are spent, before discarding, check to see if the woody stems have rooted in the water (!). Pussy Willows are notorious for easy-rooting will often sprout both roots and fresh green leaves. If so, pot them up for garden planting or gifts to friends.  

Photos: Pussy willows, Mahonia- Geri Laufer, buckets-BUHI Imports, cherry branch-blogs O'Reilly, Forsythia arrangement-Southwood Nursery

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2011-2012 Greenleaf Nursery Company Wholesale Plant Catalog

So many plants; so little time.  .  .  The new 2011-2012 Catalog from Greenleaf Nursery Company arrived in my mailbox like a gift, heavy with promise. Within its colorful pages I am reminded of the incredible diversity of nature, sometimes helped along by dedicated plant breeders and growers coaxing the best possible combination of traits from their newly introduced plants.

Greenleaf Nursery Company is a 60-year wholesale company with environmental awards and a sterling reputation which produces just under 20 million plants annually. Well-known brands like Southern Living Plants, Proven Winners, Novalis Plants that Work and Garden Debut® all rely on Greenleaf Nursery Company to grow big, lush, beautiful plants that reinforce those brands, and to deliver them to independent garden centers where garden designers, homeowners and landscapers can select the best.

The cover photo of the Catalog evokes a sense of wonder and mystery, beckoning the reader inside. After an incredible spread of the nursery and photos of company leaders, beautiful sectional dividers lend order to categories including shrubs, roses, grasses, conifers trees and color. Each entry provides a wealth of information, including a color photo, plant names, description, sun/shade requirements and the climate zone, making the Catalog a valuable resource.  

As Albert Camus noted, “Life is the sum of all your choices,” and while it is certainly not possible to sell or grow everything offered, the plants I choose will give evidence to my eccentricities and reveal my gardening penchants. Will it be an old favorite or something new to try? Renowned gardener, author and scene designer Sydney Eddison, wrote in the August/September 1993 issue of Horticulture Magazine, "Gardens are a form of autobiography." Indeed they are. 

Wholesale customers: obtain a copy of this awesome catalog by finding the Sales Rep for your area at


Monday, January 10, 2011

Benefits of Snow on Gardens and Plants

It’s January 10 in Atlanta and there are 6 inches of snow frosting the table on my deck(!). Daily life and activity have come to a standstill, schools and shops are closed, and although the State DOT brought extra crews up from South Georgia, we are warned to “stay off the roads.”  I thought I’d take a look at the effects of snow on gardens and plants.

On the plus side, the fluffy white stuff benefits plants by acting as an insulating blanket that protects landscape plants from the effects of freezing and thawing during freezing winter weather. The insulating effect is due to the unique configuration of snowflakes that includes small spaces within their structure that are filled with air, resulting in low heat conductivity. As a result, the daily temperature penetration into the snow is reduced and plants are protected from really cold dips in temperature.  Flower bulbs, veggie root crops and even the crowns of dormant perennials benefit from this insulating layer of snow.

Without insulation, the water in plant cells is more likely to freeze, damaging cell walls. Frost-damaged plants are easy to spot; their growth becomes limp, blackened or takes on a translucent appearance. Evergreens turn brown. Frost problems are often exaggerated where plants face the morning sun, since this causes them to defrost too quickly, rupturing their cell walls. Snow cover mitigates these problems.

Another positive effect of snow cover is to bring otherwise shy birds right up to the doorstep.  We tossed some dark pumpernickel bread crusts onto the deck; now they are gone and a group of sparrows left their little tracks in the snow.

On many soils the gradual freezing and thawing improves the physical structure of the soil.  Chinese researchers led by X Deng at the Chinese Agricultural University in Beijing studied The Effects of Frost Action on Soil Physical Properties of Plough Pan. Undisturbed soil cores of loamy clay were subjected to freezing and thawing in lab, and the results indicated that this action “significantly reduced the bulk density of plough pan and increased its porosity and hydraulic conductivity.” Lighter, more porous soils are easier for roots to penetrate, yielding better plant growth in the growing season.

In Atlanta usually the snow doesn’t stick around long enough to act as a blanket for very long and I haven’t owned a snow shovel for 20+ years. In fact, I can only remember one winter back in the early 90s where the top few inches of soil actually froze. So another plus is provided when the snow melts, providing added moisture that’s good for plants.

According to Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening, snow is called “the poor man's fertilizer.” As it falls, a small amount of atmospheric nitrogen and sulfur are attached to the snowflakes and sleet particles.  When the snow melts it releases that nitrogen into the soil. Hardy plants green up because unfrozen ground is warm enough that growing plants can absorb this nitrogen.

Snow can be both friend and foe. A heavy layer of wet snow can cause branches to bend, break or split, and plants to uproot or fall. The Tree Care Industry Association suggests shaking excess snow from the branches of large trees, shrubs and hedges, to prevent them from becoming disfigured by the weight, particularly from broad leaf evergreens. It’s only common sense to remove heavy deposits of snow from the roofs of greenhouses and cold frames to let in light and prevent the structures from bending under the weight. 

Is it snowing where you live? 

Photo Credits: David Laufer, NikonJim

Friday, January 7, 2011

Why and How to Prune Shrubs

It is winter and the leaves are gone, making it easy to see the structure inside deciduous woody ornamental shrubs. Three reasons shrubs are pruned are to:

+ keep them shapely

+ encourage better quality blooms by reducing the amount of wood so energy is diverted into the production of fewer but larger flowers

+ maintain plant health by eliminating dead, dying, or diseased wood, possible entry points for insects or diseases 

I’m not talking about “shearing” as is done with a dense, solid, usually evergreen hedge. Nor is pruning the best way to keep a shrub “short”.  For that, [hopefully] the initial plant selection considered the location and the ultimate height of the shrub. Only last night  I remarked at our car repair shop that they were going to be involved in a lot of pruning based on the five red-leaved Loropetalum newly planted beneath a low picture window. Each plant alone has the potential to obliterate the entire window, reaching over 10 feet in height! It looks like constant pruning is going to be necessary, when the choice of a dwarf-growing variety would have eliminated this maintenance issue.

A shrub is defined as a woody plant having multiple trunks or woody stems arising from the base at soil level. Sometimes these get too crowded, with criss-crossing stems inside the shrub. Pruning allows air to circulate within the crown and the leaves to dry off more quickly after dew or a rain. 

Then there is the spring-blooming and summer-blooming controversy. Now, it’s true, pruning a spring-blooming shrub in late winter means that some of the flower buds which formed last fall will be removed, reducing the overall number of flowers to be enjoyed. However, I think the benefits of being able to see the plant’s multi-stemmed structure while the leaves are off compensates for this reduction of flowers, and will certainly be justified next spring.

Armed with sturdy gloves and sharpened  by-pass pruners: 

+ First, trim away any branches that are rubbing against others

+Next, prune branches that are growing toward the center of the shrub, allowing outside branches to flourish

+Finally, remove stout branches of old wood at the soil line, leaving vigorous young branches that will grow, flower and restore a youthful habit to old, overgrown shrubs

I like to prune toward the end of winter, so I'm putting it on my gardening calendar for late February. This way I can observe any winter kill and prune accordingly. 

Drawings courtesy, Virginia Tech Extension, photo Garden Debut(R) Admiration Barberry PP16921