Monday, May 15, 2017

Epimedium Bounces Back

Remember last month when the newly emerging Epimedium perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' was eaten to the ground by some herbivore (probably a rabbit)?

Well, it's fine now.

Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' has bounced back and looks great as usual. Here it is nestled alongside a 'Chicago Lustre' arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) and a boxwood.

I didn't see nearly as many flowers this year (presumably the flower stems emerged early, got nibbled and didn't bounce back), but the foliage looks good as usual.

(Next year I'll simply leave the old foliage standing. I did that last year and I think the old foliage protects the newly emerging stems. Eventually, the new foliage obscures and overtakes the older foliage, which simply decays in place. Less work and a better outcome. That's my kind of gardening! 😀)

I don't think the Epimedium has spread much this year though. Like I said before, it's been a slooooow moving groundcover in my experience. That could be good if you have a small garden or just a small space to cover.

But if you're looking to cover a lot of ground, you might need to look elsewhere (like to Fragaria virginiana, the wild strawberry).


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Friday, May 12, 2017

The Perils of Mail Order

It's hard to see this wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) against the mulch right? That's because this tiny mail order plant never leafed out.

Over the years, I've resigned myself to buying a lot of the plants for my garden via mail order.

It's simply impossible to find most of the plants - especially natives - that I want at the local nurseries.

There's one good native plant nursery (GroWild) nearby, but they only offer many (not all) of the shrubs and trees I want in 15-gallon or larger sizes.

For a number of reasons, I prefer to install smaller plants (preferably 1-gallon, 2-gallon or 3-gallon, though I sometimes go up to 5-gallon).

That means I have to rely on mail order.

Don't get me wrong - over the years I've found a few excellent mail order suppliers, plus some more that are good enough (hit or miss, but with good prices) where I'm willing to take my chances.

Then sometimes I decide to try a new supplier. I'm not going to name the culprit just in case this was an aberration, but it sure was disappointing when I opened up my order for three 1-gallon wax myrtles (Morella cerifera) and found a bunch of brown sticks.

To be fair, there were three perennial strawberry begonia plants (Saxifraga stolonifera) in the same order that were in much better condition.

I planted all three, but two of the wax myrtles never leafed out, so I've now shovel-pruned them and replaced them with woody shrubs - a Burkii juniper from GroWild and a Needlepoint holly from another local nursery.

The third one did leaf out and is struggling, but wax myrtles are so tough that I'm (fairly) confident it will eventually survive and hopefully prosper in time.

Here's the mail order wax myrtle that did leaf out. This one had some dead branches too, and many of the existing leaves were not in good shape, but it's pushing new growth and I think it will eventually recover and hopefully become a nice shrub in a couple of years! (That's called "optimism.") 😉

By comparison, I was able to install a 3-gallon wax myrtle that I found down at a Huntsville, Alabama nursery (Bennett Nurseries) that already has a beautiful presence in the garden.

This 3-gallon wax myrtle that I bought in-person at Huntsville's Bennett Nurseries cost about 2.5-times as much as the mail order twigs. (That doesn't include shipping costs on the mail order plants, but then you have to figure time and gasoline to drive 200+ miles roundtrip to Huntsville. Of course, I didn't go to Huntsville just for the wax myrtle. I did visit the botanical garden while I was there and also bought some other plants.)

Do you use mail order nurseries? If so, which are some of your favorite suppliers? 

Or are you lucky enough to have great local nurseries either right in your town / metro area or within a short drive?  

Or do you grow your own plants from seed?


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Friday, May 5, 2017

Star of Bethlehem is no Spring Beauty!

Ornithogalum umbellatum, star of Bethlehem, invasive exotic in the U.S. (not to be confused with native North American wildflower, Claytonia virginica, a.k.a. spring beauty)
Don't get too excited. This is not the spring beauty you've been looking for.

I'll admit it -- I was kind of excited when I saw what looked like a new white wildflower pop up a couple places on the property this spring - one clump in a garden bed beneath a crape myrtle, the other in a weedy patch of lawn next to the back sidewalk.

I tried doing some Internet research and tentatively decided it might be spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), a native wildflower in Tennessee and throughout much of eastern North America.

But something was bugging me about this plant ID. I took a closer look at my photos and compared them to those online.

The plants in my photos had six petals and prominent six-pointed structures resembling little crowns at the center of the flower. (Sorry that's not more precise. I'm not much of a botanist and always get anthers and stamens mixed up in my head.)

The pictures of spring beauty that I found online all show a five-petaled flower, often with pink anthers held far above the surface of the flower.

So unfortunately it looks like I have star of Bethlehem (Orthinogalum umbellatum). And although it's charming, it also has a (contested) reputation for behaving invasively. It may also be quite toxic.

So...looks like a shovel-pruning is in the forecast.


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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

This Ain't Arizona, Y'all!

Cupressus arizona (Arizona cypress), not in its natural habitat

Well, if this is not Arizona, then why on Earth did I plant an Arizona cypress (Cupressus arizonica)?!

Even though most of my plant purchases are well-researched, I still sometimes succumb to the lure of impulse buys during a nursery visit.

I knew that I needed/wanted some more evergreen trees and shrubs for a privacy screen I'm trying to establish along the edges of my property.

I also knew that biodiversity is a good thing, but that there aren't many choices when it comes to tough, evergreen screening plants that can handle Tennessee extremes (90-100 degree heat and humidity in the summer, single degree cold snaps in winter, heavy clay soil that alternates between mud and concrete consistencies, etc.)

So when the nursery employee suggested Arizona cypress 'Carolina Sapphire' as an underutilized evergreen tree that might be even tougher than the old standbys in our area (Leyland cypress, 'Green Giant' arborvitae), I grabbed an affordable 3-gallon shrub sitting nearby and headed to the cash register.

Apparently that was a big mistake.

Ain't looking much like a sapphire...

The shrub languished for a couple of weeks and then went precipitously downhill, soon turning brown, crispy and by all appearances, dead.

What went wrong?

Well, I can think of two potential huge problems:

1) Roots/Shoots Mismatch - This was a tall plant. That's appealing when you're looking for instant impact, but I'm thinking it was grown in a sheltered, pampered life among lots of other Arizona cypress plants. Suddenly, it was out in the open on a hilltop, getting buffeted by wind storms. (We've had some doozies this year with straight-line winds around 60-70 mph.) The petite 3-gallon root system couldn't hold the tree upright in the storm, so I went out one day and found it keeled over. I'm sure that was a shock to its system. Even though I promptly propped it upright and staked it in place, it went from moping to failing after that.

That's why usually it's probably a better idea to buy a plant based on the size and health of its roots rather than its top-growth. The top-growth is sexier, but I think you're much more likely in the long run to have a healthy plant if you get a shrub or tree with a substantial root system and modest top-growth rather than the other way around.

2) Two words - Wet Clay - Quoting the Arizona Tree Experts Blog - "Very hardy to many growing conditions: heavy clays, rocky and thin, sloped; they’ll grow pretty much anywhere in the Austin area. The one thing they do need is drainage so don’t confuse them with bald cypress that will grow in constantly wet conditions."

Now it's true we're on a hilltop, but the Arizona cypress was planted on flat ground in the back that can stay sodden for days after a heavy rain or a lot longer than that after a series of rains.

Maybe it would have fared better if I'd planted it on the slope in front of the house?

Will I try Arizona cypress again?

Nope, I don't think so.

I mean, if I lived in Arizona I might try it, but not here in Tennessee. 

I'd much rather plant a tough, forgiving true native like eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) or a regional native like yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria). 

Usually, I like to champion the mantra of "Right plant, right place."

In this case, I'd say my actions would be more aptly described by, "Wrong plant, wrong place."

That's OK. Most of the new additions - the ones I planned out in advance - have worked pretty well so far this year. I'll chalk it up to a learning experience and try to remember this debacle next time I'm tempted to give in to an impulse purchase temptation...

How about you? Any impulse gardening purchases that went awry recently? Or do you prefer to quietly bury your mistakes at the edge of your property? 😏


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Monday, May 1, 2017

Blue Mistflower - Love It or Fear It?

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinium). Last year, this started as just a tiny quart-size plant. This year, it's on the march!
Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinium). Last year, this started as just a tiny quart-size plant. This year, it's on the march!

As with other fast-spreading yet herbaceous perennials (e.g., mountain mint), I'm not quite sure about the best way to use blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) in my garden.

On the bright side, as I wrote last November, it has a nice long autumn bloom season with flowers that attract pollinators.

On the other hand, as Tammy and Jason both pointed out last year, blue mistflower likes moisture. Although it's planted in heavy clay that gets sodden in winter and early spring, the area also bakes in summer. Of the three clumps I had growing last year, it looks like only one clump (the healthiest and strongest) came back this year.

That surviving clump has expanded dramatically - from a 3.5-inch pot to probably close to 4 square feet in about 18 months. I recognize that I kvetched in a recent post about some groundcovers - Epimediums and partridge berry -  spreading too slowly.

How can I turn around and complain about a groundcover spreading too fast? Aren't groundcovers supposed to cover ground.

Sure they are.

But as with many things in life, I think there is an ideal happy medium here. I don't want a 'groundcover' that pokes along, only extending its coverage by a couple of inches per year.

But I also don't necessarily want a groundcover that races across the property, smothering small buildings in a single season.

I'm much more leery of aggressive plants if they're exotic. I don't want to be responsible for unleashing havoc on the local ecosystem. It's one of the reasons why I gave plants like blue star creeper, creeping raspberry, sweet woodruff and Ajuga the heave-ho.

(Well, I'm trying to evict Ajuga from the garden. It's putting up a heck of a fight to stay.)

I'm much more willing to tolerate aggressive plants if they're native and/or easy to remove. For example, wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) spreads pretty darn fast, but (a) it seems to spread only via above-ground stolons (so I can at least keep track of its spread versus those plants that extend their territory via underground rhizomes), and (b) it seems very easy (so far) to uproot any clumps that grow where they are not wanted.

When the blue mistflower gets a little taller, I plan to go out after a rain and see how hard it is to pull out some stems along the edges of the clump. Basically, I want to see how much of a struggle it will be to keep this in bounds.

(Update - I went and tried this and the blue mistflower stems at the edge of the clump seemed quite easy to pull. That makes me feel a bit more confident that I could keep blue mistflower from overwhelming other nearby plants...)

If I do let it stay and it romps through the back garden, I envision a lot of late winter or early spring maintenance.

It's not such a big deal chopping down stems on a few clumps of rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), but I think it's another matter entirely to find a way to deal with 100 square feet of a tough-stemmed herbaceous and rhizomatous perennial.

For anyone who has a large stand of blue mistflower or any other aggressive perennial (e.g., one of the rhizomatous goldenrods, a spreading Monarda or a mountain mint), how do you handle winter clean up of large swaths of dead stems. Do you cut back by hand with a bypass pruner or shears? Do you use a mower?

Blue mistflower leaves, up close and personal
Blue mistflower leaves, up close and personal

Then there's the issue of blue mistflower being deciduous/herbaceous. It dies back in winter and didn't make an appearance this year until late March / early April. If it covers a lot of ground in spring, summer and fall, that means a lot of bare ground from late autumn to early spring. I worry about weeds getting a toehold in that bare dirt.

That's why I've gravitated toward low-growing evergreens ('Biokovo' geranium, wild strawberry, golden groundsel, Robin's plantain, etc.) in my search for ideal groundcovers.

Anyway, blue mistflower is still in the garden for now. If you grow this plant - or something similar in habit - I'd love to hear how you integrate it into your garden to enjoy its assets without having it become a maintenance nightmare.

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