Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Feeling Crabby

After a couple days of rain, the lawn is verdant and the 'Sugar Tyme' crab apples are glistening like jewels...

Each crabapple is adorned with a raindrop...


Follow Aaron Dalton on Feedio

Monday, October 19, 2015

Cultivars vs. Straight Species -- Viburnum Dentatum / Arrowwood Viburnum

So where do you stand on the whole cultivar vs. species issue?

Here at Garden of Aaron, I grow three types of Viburnum dentatum (arrowwood viburnum), which is native throughout much of the Southeast, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic and up into New England.

Here is how the straight species looked in early October:

Here is the form of a Viburnum dentatum (straight species), growing in full sun and awful solid clay 'soil' (1st year in the garden)

Here's a close-up of the foliage, which I'd say still looks pretty darn fresh for early October!

Here is how the 'Pearl Bleu' cultivar looked at the same time:

Here's V. dentatum 'Pearl Bleu' -  as you can see, much of the foliage has folded in half and quite a few leaves have burnt edges.

And here is the 'Chicago Lustre®' cultivar, also on the same day:

By contrast, the foliage on the 'Chicago Lustre' cultivar of V. dentatum looks fresh, lush, healthy and deep green. 

Remember, these are all the same species - just different cultivars - growing in very similar conditions.

In fact, here's a side-by-side shot to show you that 'Pearl Bleu' and 'Chicago Lustre' are growing literally side-by-side. They're both on the northwest side of the house, which gets mostly shade all morning, but bakes in a surprising amount of sun on summer afternoons. In fact, I'd say 'Chicago Lustre' may actually get more of the afternoon sun and perhaps provides a bit of shade to its 'Pearl Bleu' companion.

'Pearl Bleu' on the left, 'Chicago Lustre' on the right. Both shrubs were planted at the same time. Both actually died back to the roots (after I stored them in the garage over the winter and shamefully neglected them), but 'Chicago Lustre' has clearly roared back more vigorously than 'Pearl Bleu'...

Interestngly, the straight species produced more fruit this year than either of the cultivars (although the berries on Chicago Lustre appeared to be larger and more plump than those on the species). All the Viburnum dentatum berries on the species plant and 'Chicago Lustre' have already been devoured by the birds. (I suspect that a mockingbird and a blue jay divided the ones on the species plant.)

I'm planning to add a few more V. dentatum cultivars to the garden this autumn (from Classic Viburnums nursery, which has an amazing selection of the genus), so perhaps I can report back in a year to give a comprehensive overview of the relative strengths of the different cultivars vs. the species.

Oh and then there's this little seedling that popped up on the corner of the house right near where 'Chicago Lustre' and 'Pearl Bleu' could have canoodled. I've transplanted it to someplace where it will have a bit more room to spread its wings...

I'm fairly sure that this is a Viburnum dentatum seedling. It seems to have taken the transplantation well. You'll notice that the foliage is lighter-green and has more of a matte finish, but otherwise seems just as clean and healthy as the 'Chicago Lustre' foliage. 

How about in your garden?

Do you like growing straight wild species plants or do you seek out cultivars?

Personally, in some cases I favor the straight species and in other cases I see the merits of cultivars.

For instance, I chose to grow the 'Miss Huff' cultivar of Lantana camara because it is supposed to have better cold hardiness than the species and I was worried that the straight species would not survive here in Tennessee. (Actually, I'm not sure one can even find a straight species Lantana camara at nurseries. The only ones I've seen for sale are different cultivars.)

With Viburnum dentatum, the jury is still out for me. I'd say that the species has done much better so far than 'Pearl Bleu', but I quite like the 'Chicago Lustre' cultivar.

In other cases - for instance with Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflower) - I only grow the straight species. For one thing, I've read that the species is tougher and has greater longevity than the cultivars.

The cultivars of many flowering plants are bred to have bigger, fancier, 'double' flowers. But if you garden to help the bees and other pollinators like I do, you're probably better off choosing a plant with simpler, single flowers. As GardenersWorld.com says: "Most double flowers are of little use [to bees], as they're too elaborate. Some are bred without male and female parts, while others have so many petals that bees can't get to the nectar and pollen. So single dahlias are popular with many bees, while doubles are usually ignored."

Follow Aaron Dalton on Feedio

Monday, October 12, 2015

What a Difference Six Months Makes -- Lantana camara 'Miss Huff'

This is my first year growing Lantana camara, a flowering plant from the tropical regions of Central and South America.

It's my understanding that L. camara grows into a large shrub in its home range or other tropical environments, but here on the border of USDA zones 6 and 7, it's only marginally hardy. It's my understanding that it will die to the ground this winter and (hopefully!) resprout in the spring. Even if it does act as a perennial here, I doubt it would get bigger than it did this year (about 2-3 feet tall and wide).

I chose the 'Miss Huff' cultivar because it is reportedly the most cold hardy L. camara available.

My wife was skeptical at first, which is understandable because the two plants we purchased looked like this when we first brought them home in April and stayed about the same size into May:

Lantana camara in spring 2015, first year in the garden

Today, they look like this:

Lantana camara in October 2015, still first year in the garden! These flowers have bloomed non-stop for months.

It took the butterflies a little while to discover the plants, but especially in late summer and into early autumn (August, September and October), the two L. camara plants have been aflutter with butterflies throughout the day.

Not only are the flowers pretty to people, but clearly they are the cat's meow to butterflies.
Hopefully, 'Miss Huff' will survive the winter and come back next year (I'll let you know!), but regardless these plants offer so much beauty throughout the summer and autumn that I'm planning to add a few more to the garden next spring. Even if they only behave as annuals, I think they'd still be worth having in your garden.

Lantana camara does seem to prefer a good bit of sun. The plant that was in a mostly sun setting flowered and grew a bit better than the one that received afternoon shade from a Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree).

With just a bit of supplemental water early in the summer to help them get established, both plants proved extremely heat and drought tolerant. The flowers are self-cleaning (i.e., there's no need to deadhead) and the plants bloom profusely and cheerfully for months and months.

I do believe that L. camara is invasive in various tropical or subtropical parts of the world, including in parts of the U.S., especially along the Gulf Coast. In Texas, the problem seems to be limited so far to Austin and points south. In Florida, it is considered a Category I invasive as it displaces or hybridizes with native plants.

As far as I know, it is not considered at all invasive here in Tennessee. As I said, I think it's only marginally hardy here to start.

If you live in a warmer zone and feel you must have Lantana camara to feed butterflies, please look for a cultivar that is considered sterile or seedless.

Actually, per Clemson, I see that 'Miss Huff' is supposed to be sterile! Hooray!! This makes me feel even better about growing this cultivar. I also suppose it explain why I haven't seen any fruit on Miss Huff despite lots of pollinating action going on. Good deal.

Follow Aaron Dalton on Feedio

Monday, October 5, 2015

Soldiers on the Agastache!

These soldiers (OK, soldier beetles) like to make love, not war. Often, you'll see one (female?) beetle crawling around while another (male?) beetle hangs on its back (presumably) trying to mate.

The last couple of years, the soldier beetles did their loving on the 'Lemon Queen' sunflower, but when that plant suddenly and unexpectedly crashed this past spring (and was subsequently shovel-pruned), they moved on to other plants this year - primarily agastache (like this Agastache foeniculum), but also Sedum 'Autumn Joy'. When they are not getting it on,  I believe soldier beetles generally serve as important beneficial insects in the garden.

Follow Aaron Dalton on Feedio