Sunday, December 27, 2015

Patience Pays Off

Sometimes (maybe, often) I find myself an impatient gardener. I look at the picture on the plant tag and want the plant to look like that immediately. So I do everything I can to to jump start it: amending the soil, adding root stimulator, fertilizing, mulching, watering, etc. And then, like a mother with newborn baby, I check it often to see how much it has grown.  But the old gardening adage that says a plant sleeps the first year, creeps the second year, and leaps the third year was coined by a wise gardener. It seems that regardless of what a well-intentioned gardener does, you can't rush Mother Nature. I'm reminded of this lesson often.

Case in point is the Nandina domestica 'Murasaki', sold under the trade name Flirt Nandina. I loved this nandina at first sight because it has the wispy, almost fern-like foliage and nice red berries of the large common nandina but with a more diminutive size. It's suppose to mature to 1-2 ft tall and wide. At my spring job at the Dabney Nursery, I often mention it when customers ask for recommendations for small garden areas.

Jack and I planted two Flirts in our garden about 3 years ago. Over the course of the next several years, the plant did not grow at all. In fact, it seemed to decline, looking a little more sparse and scraggly each year. When this happens, impatient gardeners like me are usually motivated to do more: water more, fertilize more, etc. Or maybe the plant is not happy in its location and needs to be moved to a better spot (or to the compost pile). But I resisted the urge to do something and just waited. You never know what is going on underneath the soil. Meanwhile, back at my spring job at the Dabney Nursery, my enthusiasm for recommending the Flirt  had dampened a bit and this spring came with the caution, "It's a beautiful plant but seems slow to establish."

Then suddenly this summer, Flirt began to thrive. It looks almost as good as the plant tag. I have high hopes for next spring. 

Nandina domestica 'Musacari' 

I don't know if my experience with the Flirt nandina is typical or not. Maybe its slow start was unique to our garden. (If you have one, please post a comment on your experience.) Even if its slow start is typical, have patience. Flirt is worth the wait. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Update on Leaf Removal: Oh My Aching Back!

In mid-November I told you about our two-part plan for dealing with the fallen leaves. For the lawn (part one), Jack and I planned to mulch the leaves with the lawnmower and leave them in place to decompose. For the beds (part two), we were going to wait until all the leaves fell, rake them out to an open area, mulch them with the mower, and return them to the beds.

Part one of the plan seemed to work fine. It was a lot easier and quicker to mow the leaves, compared with raking them and moving them to a compost pile. We have a lot of tiny leaf pieces in the lawn, but we believe the next few rains will push them to the soil level. We are anticipating that they will decompose nicely by spring and add nutrients to the soil. 

Plan two was much nicer while we were in the "waiting for the leaves to fall" stage of the plan. But this past weekend offered up two warm days and nearly all the leaves were down, so we decided that it was time to go operational. Executing plan two was much slower than I expected because the leaves were very deep in some places. We finished the front beds on Saturday, and Sunday we got about half of the beds  in the back and side yards done. The work was back-breaking because in some places we had to pick up the leaves to move them out to an area where we could run the lawnmower over them. I estimate that Jack and I need one more sunny day to finish everything. We were happy to get so much done over the weekend, but I can't say that today's rain was unwelcome. Jack and I are both driven to finish things once they are started, and if the weather had permitted, we would have been out there raking and mulching again today. But this rain forced us to take the day off. Mother Nature, our sore backs thank you!

We won't know until spring how well this way of dealing with the leaves works out, but, in terms of labor, I think I like these methods. Unless we see unanticipated negative effects in the spring, I think plan one was a definite success--definitely less work-- and that this is probably how we'll handle them in the future. So far, I think plan two is a keeper, too. Although we worked really hard the days we worked on the beds, it was a much shorter leaf-raking season. Last fall, it seemed we were raking leaves continuously from October through December. And since we are returning the mulched leaves back to the beds, we avoid the work of building and caring for a compost pile. The benefits just keep coming!

On a completely unrelated topic, happy winter solstice. Tomorrow is a longer day!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Now Blooming: Tea Olive

One day while touring the Dixon Gardens I noticed a wonderful fragrance. Looking around, I couldn't connect the fragrance with any particular plants. When I asked someone, they said "Oh, that's the tea olive" and pointed out a distant small evergreen tree. I was impressed both by the pleasing fragrance and how the smell carried a long distance across the garden. 

I purchased a small tea olive that same year and waited patiently. The first two years it bloomed sparsely and grew very little. I was concerned that I had bought the wrong species of osmanthus because the leaves were so small. This year, however, the plant had that third-year growth spurt. The leaf size increased and it rewarded me this fall with many fragrant blooms. 

As you can see from the picture below, the blooms are tiny and nestled at the base of the leaves. From a distance, the blooms are hardly visible. I think this is part of the plant's charm: the nose discovers it first, and then the eyes must seek it out. Sometimes the scent eludes me if I pursue it too aggressively. I bend over to sniff the flowers and smell nothing, then later, detect the fragrance wafting across the garden from quite a distance.

Osmanthus fragrans
If you are a fan of fragrant plants, I highly recommend the tea olive. In the three years or so it has been in our garden, I have given it no special care: no fertilizer, no spraying for bugs or disease, and very little watering. It is evergreen and blooms in the late fall/early winter and sporadically at other times of the years (it was early spring when I ran across it at the Dixon). 

If you shop for one, be aware that there are a number of osmanthus species and a number of plants with "tea" in their common name (for example, Camellia sinensis, the tea plant). This article is informative about the various osmanthus species and cultivars. The one I've been discussing is Osmanthus fragrans, easy to remember if you think about it being named for its wonderful fragrance.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Daffodils in the Fall

Jack and I have some daffodils planted in a bed of mostly liriope. Since we cut the lirope foliage back each spring, the daffodils have a chance to put on their show in the early spring and, later, the liriope helps disguise the daffodil foliage as it dies back. Sometime back in the summer, I noticed one bunch of daffodil foliage sprouting up in the liriope. I didn't think much of it. Curious to see what the outcome would be, I just left it alone. Several weeks ago, I noticed that a strange bloom stalk had emerged. Strange because those daffodils normally have fat buds and this one was one the slender side and strange because this is fall and daffodils bloom in spring. From there things got "curiouser and curiouser" (as Alice said about Wonderland). The bloom stalk produced a stalk with multi-flower buds, not the single one I expected. Clearly this fellow was a new arrival, but how did he get there? 

Just a few days ago, I downloaded a new garden app on my smart phone that is supposed to identify plants. So I took a picture using the app. After searching its database, the app returned a series of pictures of narcissus that closely matched this one. Unfortunately, the genus name narcissus was all that was provided and I had already guessed that much and was hoping for a bit more specificity. 

So I consulted the American Daffodil Society website. They listed 13 daffodil divisions that you can view here. After examining this flower more closely, it appears to be a Division 13 (Species, Wild Variants and Wild Hybrids). As you can see in this picture, both the petals (perianth segments) and the cup (corona) are white. They remind me of the paperwhites that are forced into bloom this time  of year.

By the way, in case you get as confused by nomenclature as I do for this genus, the American Daffodil Society says that there is no difference between Narcissus and daffodils. Narcissus is the botanical name for the genus and daffodil is the common name for all flowers in the genus. They recommend using daffodil at all times, except in scientific writing. The term "jonquil" applies only to daffodils in certain categories. And the term "buttercup"? I could find nothing about this term on the internet, other than it is incorrect. But that's what everyone called them when I was growing up in Tipton County, and, in my mind, the common yellow ones will always be buttercups. I wonder if it is a Tennessee thing?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Wacky Weather

Yesterday, Jack and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather to clean up some flower beds. I had planned to wait until the plants had gone dormant but who knows when that is going to happen? To expedite leaf removal (we are mulching them, then returning them to the bed), I cut back the foliage on the perennials (the salvia and coneflowers are still blooming) and pulled up the annuals.  I was struck by how many plants are alive and growing, almost a full week into December. And have you noticed how many azaleas have been blooming this fall? Some of these are the mulit-season bloomers like Encore, but I'm sure that others are not. 

Is this an anomaly or a sign of things to come? Global warming?

This article by the Garden Professors suggests that such out-of-season bloom doesn't represent a threat to our plants in the short-term. But the graph they present does show a definite warming trend. . . .