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, December 18, 2012

How to Make Homemade Satsuma Cider or Wine Mulls

Cider Mulls and Wine Mulls lend a festive  atmosphere to holiday gatherings. 

Pour a quart of cider or a bottle of light red wine into a saucepan,  add the Mulling spices attractively packaged in a Satsuma shell, and simmer gently for 15 minutes or so, until the house smells wonderful and the beverage tastes good! 

How To Make a Homemade Cider or Wine Mull

1. Cut Satsumas (such as Arctic Frost Satsuma PPAF by Garden Debut)  in half horizontally and eat the fruit, saving the shells

2. Dry the shells completely - I use the stove top and it takes about 3-4 days

3. Assemble ingredients for mulls: dark brown sugar, stick cinnamon and whole cloves. 

Stuff the dried Satsuma shells with brown sugar

4. After filling the dried Satsuma shells with brown sugar, decorate with the mulling spices: whole cloves and stick cinnamon. May also add whole allspice or cardamom if desired.

5. A dozen of the finest homemade Satsuma cider mulls

6. Close-up of cider mulls

7. For gift-giving or hostess gifts, wrap with cellophane or plastic wrap to display Satsuma Cider or Wine Mull, then tie tightly with cloth ribbon! 

Sending Merry Christmas wishes! 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Trying Winchester Gardens Fertilizer Spikes

Back in March I found Gerry Joeng’s post in the “Garden Industry Pro, Garden Media and Guru” LinkedIn Group, offering a free trial of some of the Winchester Gardens’ fertilizers and organics. While I am primarily an organic gardener, I thought I might give the products a try, so Gerry kindly sent me some packages.

Although I did not take photos, I did use Winchester Gardens Select Organics Herb Fertilizer on lemon verbena, heliotrope, patchouli and several varieties of lavender planted in May, and they did very well.

On my Knockout Roses, I decided to use three Winchester Gardens Tree & Shrub Fertilizer Spikes spaced equally around the root systems. Because I ran out of fertilizer spikes before I ran out of roses to try it on, the samples turned into a "non-scientific trial" with fertilizer and without. 

My original Pink and Red Knockout Roses were planted dormant in January from 3-gallon pots, three to four months before I got the fertilizer to try. My "control group" that received no fertilizer were transplanted from another spot in my garden in March, and although they were approximately the same size, there was a lag of two months in regard to root establishment before hot weather arrived in May.   

Delivery System:  I used my Dad’s gigantic, XL screwdriver to make holes for Tree and Shrub Fertilizer Spikes (April, 2012)  

I pounded each fertilizer spike into the soil at roots of Knockout Rose using a small sledgehammer; 3 per shrub. Roses were watered sporatically throughout the summer and fall. 

At the end of the growing season, the Red Knockout Roses that were fed with three fertilizer spikes each are large and bushy shrubs filled with flowers. Photo taken Nov. 24, 2012  (Orange Zinnias to the right were killed by the frost that following night.)

With 5-foot ruler: Pink Knockout Rose bush fed with 3 fertilizer spikes is full and filled with flowers. Photo taken today, Dec. 7, 2012 

With 5-foot ruler. Much smaller Pink Knockout Rose that was NOT fed (b/c I ran out of fertilizer spikes). Photo taken today, Dec. 7, 2012. The unfertilized rose bush was growing and flowering but are only about 1/3 the size. 

Another view of two of the smaller Pink Knockout Roses that did not receive fertilizer, photo taken today, Dec. 7, 2012. 

Winchester Gardens is having a Sweepstakes, so I entered and maybe I will win some more fertilizer! 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

After - Thanksgiving Pumpkins

Big old pumpkins on the side steps
The day after Halloween I gathered 3 huge pumpkins from the curbs in the neighborhood, and enjoyed them through Thanksgiving as decor.

unbaked pumpkin pies, ready for oven
They were made into pies with homemade crusts[ raw pies pictured here before baking:

the seeds were salted and baked 

I washed the pulp from the seeds, salted them with a Tablespoon of kosher salt per pan and baked them at 300 degrees F for 30 minutes, stirred them and baked for 10 more minutes.
Roasted pumpkin seeds 

pumpkins tossed on top of compost
Next, the shells went into my little red Corona wheelbarrow on the way to the compost pile.

We made a tidy compost pile by folding 2 sheets of concrete reinforcing grid into L-shapes and creating a square.

Compost is filled in autumn
Later after I cut back the daisy mums that had enlivened the fall garden!

Pink and yellow daisy mums, Nov. 2012
Those mums had looked like this  during November:

Both the pumpkin shells and the mums will recycle minerals and nutrients back into the garden in the form of compost.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hand-Made Wreath

The Atlanta Chapter (Chattahoochee Unit) of The Herb Society of Atlanta has a wreath-making workshop that is a benefit of membership on the first Saturday in December each year.

This year I made 2 wreaths using leaves of Teddy Bear Magnolia PP13049, dried blue flower heads of Nantucket Blue Hydrangea and bright red berries of Christmas Jewel Holly PP14477. 

An 18-inch purchased straw wreath base covered with silvery Spanish Moss was my foundation, and I used crimped floral pins to attach the leaves, flowers and berries. 

A red velvet Christmas bow completed the wreath, hanging outside of our storm door.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thoughts Toward the End of Garden Season

Green Tomatoes will ripen on windowsill
The first frost of Winter 2012/13 arrived in Atlanta overnight November  24-25, 2012 and toasted the tomato plants, patchouli, basil, zinnias and heliotrope. The Lemongrass and Scented Geraniums came through just fine.

I came across this incredible Persimmon tree loaded with fruit-- wonder how old it is?
Pumpkin seeds roasted; rinds go to compost

Neighbor's persimmon loaded with fruit
Persimmons sweeter after frost

Arrangement w Mexican Tarragon, Zinnias + Rue
 Planning to plant the last few bulbs, peonies, Jack-in-the-Pulpit and last 2 dozen Foxgloves this week.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Wood Chips Connoisseur

gardengeri on top of a load of free wood chips
Free wood chips (along with free bags of pine straw collected from curbs across nearby neighborhoods) are the mainstay of my garden. In Atlanta's warm climate, wood chips biodegrade to yield rich black organic humus similar to woodland soil in one year.I continually replenish organic matter in the form of mulch on the surface, or as compost dug into the soil, increasing the organic content and improving the soil structure of my Georgia red clay. 

In order to obtain desirable wood chips I ask the driver a couple of questions. 

Q. How sharp is your chipper/shredder? 

A. If he says "I put new blades on on Monday" we are good to go. I prefer a sharp chipper which produces small, neat wood chips. In contrast, a dull chipper produces long strips of wood that are unsightly as mulch and are slower to break down as compost. 

Wood chip mulch
Q. Where do these wood chips come from? 

A. Ideally, if the crew has been trimming back healthy tree limbs to clear right of way along power lines, I can be pretty sure of healthy, safe, disease-free chips. 

Wood & Leaf Chips
Q. Time of year and Summer chips v.s. Winter chips

A. This brings in the Nitrogen:Carbon Ratio. Summer wood chips contain large amounts of green leaves that add an important component of Nitrogen to the compost or mulch. Bare, leafless limbs in winter are composed of wood rather than leaf tissue, and add a higher component of Carbon. Evergreens can add high-N leaves even in winter, as is the case with wood chips from Christmas trees. 

When a new load of wood chips is delivered, the pile heats up during the immediate process of bacterial decomposition. If I insert a garden fork to open up the pile, steam rises from the disturbed chips. After the pile cools down, the development of white fungus strands (mycelium) on the wood chips signifies that the "friendly fungi" present are actively at work and the chips are well on their way to breaking down to compost and humic acid.

rich woods soil 
Basically,  the wood chips add bulk to the soil structure three ways:
1. fibrous organic matter of the chips themselves
2. biological mass of filamentous fungi that grows on them
3. transitory waves of beneficial bacteria populations 
This creates a favorable environment for worms and microorganisms.   

Digging Deeper: For Further Reading:

OK State Recycling Yard Waste: Don’t Bag It  (although if everyone read this, I would get no more free pinestraw)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Easy Caramel Urban® Apples for Halloween

So the columnar Urban Apple® trees in your edible garden produced a little crop of apples from the Blushing Delight™ Urban® Apples PP21511

What to do with the harvest? If any survived eating out of hand in the garden, consider Caramel Apples for Halloween! An easy recipe follows. 

Caramel Apples, Makes 4

1 bag caramels
1 bag Heath Bar Bits ‘o Brickle Toffee (or favorite candy bar, minced), 
1/2 C. chopped almonds or pecans as desired
1 Tablespoon water

Scrub the apples and dry thoroughly
Completely coat apple with melted caramel
Push a handle into the stem end of each apple (craft sticks or shortened chop sticks work well)

Prepare ahead: place the Heath bar bits and chopped nuts on plates or shallow saucers

Melt the caramels and little bit of water in a double boiler

Cool the caramel slightly, then submerge each apple in turn

Roll in candy pieces if desired

While still warm, roll the apple in the candy pieces or in the nuts for extra flavor


Monday, October 29, 2012

10 Steps to Treat Hurricane Damage to Landscape Plants

Outer Banks, NC

Hurricane Sandy is blowing a lot of salt water around the eastern half of the country. Here's some suggestions for caring for a hurricane- damaged landscape. 

How to care for a landscape after hurricane damage
  1. Reposition shrubs and small trees that have been blown over by high winds back into an upright position, bracing them with stakes until roots re-grow. 
  2. Fill hollows and replace soil around roots of trees that have been rocked loose by high winds  
  3. Apply fresh water repeatedly to irrigate plantings that were inundated with salt water- do not wait for salt damage to show up 
  4. Remove mud, leaves and debris from smothering lawns (Bermuda is most likely to recover) 
  5. Prune broken limbs and branches, smoothly trimming ragged edges so healing callus can form – do not use tree wound paint 
  6. Trim shredded foliage from leaves of perennial plants battered by wind, rain or hail 
  7. Do not eat fruits, vegetables and herbs that were covered by flood waters
  8. Replant shade trees 
  9. Have the soil tested before adding inorganic fertilizer (compost is OK) 
  10. Replace lawn furniture, ornamental planters, window boxes, bonsai trees and outdoor decor
Adding link to  interesting map of winds across the country

Friday, October 26, 2012

How to Make Satsuma-cello the Easy Way

How to Make Yummy Liqueur out of Bumper™ Satsumas the Easy Way
Satsuma-cello Cordial

Satsuma-cello is the Garden Debut® version of the sweet Italian liqueur known as Limoncello.  

Make Satsuma-cello from your home-grown harvest right now in time for the Christmas holidays. 

Bumper™ Hardy Satsuma trees add both nutrition and beauty to the edible garden. 

This fruit tree produces more Satsumas than other varieties of Satsuma and grows 10-12 feet tall in ground.  

Brilliant orange fruits contrast well with dark green, glossy, evergreen foliage for an edible ornamental hardy to 15 degrees F. (U.S.D.A. Zone 8B).  

Bumper™ Hardy Satsuma
Satsuma-cello, makes 1 quart


10 Bumper™ Satsumas
1 bottle (750 ml ) 150–proof Vodka
Large, lidded glass jar for steeping
2 cups white sugar
1 cup water


Scrub your Bumper™ Satsumas then zest them using a zester or vegetable peeler. 

Zesting the Satsuma
Take care not to include any of the white inner pith since this will make your liqueur bitter.  (Reserve the sections for juice or add to green tossed salads.

Removing Pith from Zest

Place the peels in a large glass jar with a lid and pour good-quality high test vodka over the Satsuma peels. 

Steep where it is handy to swish
Steep at room temperature for 10 days to 4 weeks, swishing gently every 5 days or so to mix. The longer the mixture rests, the more intense the flavor will be. 

Test if it is ready by smelling its fragrance and by checking if the peels snap when bent in half. The vodka slowly takes on the flavor and color of the Satsuma peels.

Strain the peels from the Vodka essence
Remove the peels by straining the flavored vodka essence through a coffee filters until clear.  I put the coffee filter inside a strainer to keep it upright. 

Add Sugar Syrup to Vodka Essence
Make sugar syrup by dissolving white cane sugar in water in a saucepan and cooking over medium heat until just dissolved, but do not bring to a boil. If you use unbleached sugar, your Satsuma-cello will be more tan in color.

Cool and add syrup to the strained vodka essence, then steep for another 4 weeks in a cool, dark location, again swishing gently every once in awhile to combine flavors.

Voila! Satsuma-cello

The finished liqueur will be ready to enjoy with a dessert or to package in decorative glass bottles for holiday gifts. 

Satsuma=cello is great as an after-dinner digestif in a small cordial glass, as an ice cream topping or in the construction of cocktails such as Cosmopolitans. 

For more information about growing Satsumas in your edible garden, visit the Fruit Trees page at Garden Debut®   

Click on individual photos to enlarge them.
photos copyright Geri Laufer, 2012
please give credit.