Thursday, September 22, 2016

Fall Watering

After a too-wet spring, we're now in a too-dry period in our neighborhood. (I say "in our neighborhood" because other neighborhoods have had rain that we did not get in the last month.) Although the temperatures have cooled a bit, it's easy for plants to get too dry, especially if they were planted in the spring. 

Take this poor dogwood that I spotted while walking the dog this morning. I noticed a few days ago that it was looking limp, and this is what is looked like this morning--a severe case of drought stress. I wonder whether this poor guy is going to make it, even if the owner starts watering it.

Seeing how quickly this tree deteriorated reminded me to check my own recently-planted trees for signs of drought stress. While I didn't plant any trees this spring, I did plant one last fall, and it takes more than one year for trees to develop a good root system. Although I don't water them quite as much in the second year, I consider them to be "newly-planted" trees until they have been in the ground for at least two full years.

This is what my own kousa dogwood looked like when I checked it this morning. These brown spots on the leaves are probably a combination of drought stress and leaf scorch. Shortly after we planted this tree, the next door neighbor took out a large maple tree, which resulted in a period of afternoon sun. The extra heat and sun means that this dogwood needs more water than it otherwise would. I put out a dripping hose and gave it a long, slow watering.

Last fall I planted a red Japanese maple in this same general area of the garden. It is in a somewhat shadier location so sun scald is not as much of a problem. I've kept an eye on it during the dry spells and it is faring well. You can see a little drought stress on the very tips of the leaves. It got a good soaking today, too.

The weatherman is calling for a chance of rain early next week, but if your garden is like mine, some plants, even some already-established plants, are thirsty. And don't let those cooler temperatures in the forecast lull you into thinking that coolness equals moisture. As long as it is dry, watering continues to be important for some plants, even into fall.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Canna Alert!

One of the great joys of Memphis summers is the lengthy blooming season, and from May into fall, my yellow canna (Canna ‘Ra’) offer a majestic six-foot splash of color at the southwest corner of my front porch.  They are tall enough to offer some shade for mophead hydrangeas stressed by late afternoon sun.  The canna may have been spreading there for decades.   Early this summer, when the canna seemed most thriving, I thinned one section, transplanting some plants to the alley and others to pots for the Master Gardeners' Spring Fling plant sale.  Other plants in the front lawn had suffered in recent years:  the gorgeous pomegranate tree (death by borer), the gardenia (near murder after a cold winter), azaleas (die back), and the large crepe myrtle (scale, of course).  I rejoiced in my seemingly indestructible canna, so tough a specimen that it was once called “cast iron plant.”

But alas, as the poet says, “nothing gold will stay.”  By July, the many colorful blooms could not hide a growing disfiguration of the foliage.  The edges of unfurled leaves were stuck together forming brown stalks frequently bent at an angle from the tall stem.

Manny Pailet, Greenhouse Manager at the Memphis Botanic Garden, diagnosed the problem easily by unrolling one of the leaves and exposing a worm amidst a thick layer of black worm feces (or more technically, frass).  My canna had become infested by the lesser canna leafroller, the most common canna pest.  This yellowish caterpillar feeds inside rolled leaves tied with short silken threads.  It doesn’t kill the plants, but it certainly makes them unsightly, and the evidence is all over town.  For pictures of the moth and worm, click here.  

So I looked into ways to control or eliminate the leafrollers.  I sprinkled a bit of Sevin on a few of the infected leaves, but knew it couldn’t penetrate to where the worms were and also that it was toxic to many beneficial insects. Those leaves have remained healthy, however.  Manny suggested a thuricide concentrate, which he had used at the Botanic Garden.  This product contains a naturally occurring bacterium and is applied as a spray and works by causing target pests not to feed, so they starve. I admit that the main reason I chose not to use this product was I would have to purchase a sprayer and mix the product myself. Although it is advertised not to kill non-target insects such as honeybees and other pollinators, I was also reluctant to use a spray so close to other blooming plants covered with bees and butterflies.  I wasn't yet convinced of its safety.

Responding to my preference to avoid a spray, Urban Earth recommended a Tree & Shrub Systemic Insect Drench, which contains an imidacloprid compound related to the systemic I was using for crepe myrtle scale.  Hoping for similar results, I poured this mixture around the canna roots in several beds.  It wasn't until later that I realized imidacloprid is in the class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids which are highly toxic to all insects.  Maybe I should have used the thuricide!

Further research confirmed this conclusion.  Extension agents generally recommend the biological insecticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) for the very good reason that it is least toxic to beneficial insects. This product promises to work well to manage not only the canna leafroller but also other destructive worms and caterpillars. Moreover, it should have no effect on earthworms, birds, honeybees, and ladybugs.  I found several brands of Bt at Dan West Garden Center in various formulations: as a dust (like Sevin), as a concentrate (which Manny had used), and as a ready-to-use spray.  I chose the ready-to-use spray as simplest for me to use.

In mid-September, the adult leafrollers (small moths) were still visible flying around the canna, searching for the best spot to lay their eggs, so I decided not to delay spraying the plants. I shook the container well, both before I started spraying and throughout the process.  My goal was to spray all surfaces, above and below and especially down and around any curling or already curled leaves.

It is too soon to report results, but I am hopeful that the lesser canna leafrollers will be done in by the double whammy of a systemic application and an insecticide spray.  I know I will have to spray again, perhaps weekly, but I am not relying on chemicals alone.  Whenever I deadhead, I also remove blighted foliage and, I hope, the worm within.  Because my canna were so thick, they may have been more susceptible to infestation, so I will continue to thin and clear out the dense areas.  A necessary part of management of the leafroller is cutting down and disposing of dead canna plants in winter since the pupae overwinter in this material. When my plants die back this winter, I will undertake a major cleanup.  And next spring when the plants emerge, I will be watchful and ready to spray before the leafrollers take over.

And, of course, I will not take canna to the Spring Fling plant sale.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Inheriting a Garden: Lesson Learned

Perhaps as a new blogger, I should provide followers of Garden Musings a brief introduction. There are gardeners who are so knowledgeable and experienced that I see them almost like presiding deities of horticulture, and I dream that someday I will be among their ranks. Yet my delight in gardening is frequently offset either by ignorance or by thoughtless action or inaction, and to be truthful, making these mistakes is how I learn. Writing about my garden experiences is likely to be confessional, as is the case in this first blog, and I hope that readers can find something useful if not entertaining in my learning experiences.

In December 2012 I moved into a a century-old midtown house with a beautifully landscaped backyard. Now, most people unpacking boxes, moving furniture around, and worrying about window treatments would simply rejoice that the outside was taken care of. But I knew me and my propensity to find a way to mess up what someone had paid to beautify. After all, hadn’t I, in a former life, allowed Russian cyprus to run wild over and beyond the natural areas it should have been confined to? doomed peonies by planting them too deep? destroyed any joy of a herb garden by putting it in shade? drowned a weigila by planting it in the only hole I could dig in that sloping backyard? You get the idea. I feared with such beauty now my own, I was surely on the verge of discovering new ways to uglify. My mantra became WAIT AND SEE. It has taken me 
a few years to figure out that “Do No Harm” is not the same thing as “Do Nothing.”

On jaunts around the circular lawn (maybe 1/3 of my .18 acre lot), with a dog or two in tow, by early spring I had catalogued the perennials in the beds stretching back to the wood fence on the west and south and up to the carport on the east and patio to the north. Autumn fern nestled among boxwood, azaleas, and spirea. Lorapetalum provided colorful purple splotches on either side of the lawn. A large fig tree leafed out over a ground cover of Dutch iris and periwinkle major. A weeping Japanese maple, althea, crepe myrtles, nandinas. and witch hazel were spaced around the lawn. A row of Ocala anise, Virginia creeper and forsythia lined the back fence. Wild cherry and mystery vines grew in and up the fences.

Over the next few years, I sat in the backyard and luxuriated in my tidy little property, my Eden. Four hosta varieties had emerged, along with Solomon seal and a beautiful orange honeysuckle which draped the arbor in the back corner and reached over to cascade down the fence. My additions to the display were modest at first. Petunias and lantana in pots brought color where a sunbeam penetrated the deep shade of the overarching oak tree next door. Giant coleus sparkled in beds with dappled shade. Later, empty spaces vanished under an Anabelle hydrangea, new ferns, varied hostas, bright caladium, giant elephant ears and more.

I’m not sure when it happened, but one day I looked out the kitchen window and saw not a neat garden of beautiful and varied plants, but a jungle of crowded foliage with plants fighting for survival. The fig tree, which had never borne a fig, branched over the middle of the lawn. The lorapetalum had become scraggly trees overlooking fences, and one of them was seriously challenging the space allotted to the witch hazel. The arbor in the far corner was hidden behind a lorapetalum and massive nandina. Dead limbs were hanging from the oak tree. And that was only the most visible evidence of riot. 

My new mantra became CONTROL! I hired tree trimmers to clean up the dead branches and thin the oak canopy. I whacked the fig tree almost flat and lopped the nandina to a civilized size. This winter, I will seriously prune the lorapetalum so that again I have full purple shrubs to enjoy. There is more pruning ahead, but eventually I imagine once again sitting in the backyard enjoying my tidy space, only this time taking care, occasionally, to maintain its beauty.

Goodbye to a Gardener

My mother was born in 1930 and grew up on her family's farm in Tipton County. Her next door neighbor and lifelong best friend, Evelyn, was born in 1928 on a nearby farm. Farms in those days were not the mega-businesses they are now, but were usually small and provided both homes and livelihoods to the families that lived on them. 

Both my grandfather and Miss Evelyn’s father raised cotton or soybean crops that put a little money in the bank, grew corn to feed the cows and hogs that put meat on the table, and worked vegetable gardens that provided nearly everything else they ate. Both my mother and Miss Evelyn were well-versed in “putting up” vegetables for the winter, canning and freezing.

After they grew up and married, their fathers gave them a little piece of land on the family farms, and they built houses a stone’s throw from each other. Miss Evelyn’s house was on one little hill and our house was on the adjoining little hill. In between was a valley where Miss Evelyn planted her vegetable garden. Both she and my mother enjoyed flowers and grew what they could plant from seed or acquire from cuttings from someone else’s garden. In those days, you could stop by a stranger’s house and ask for a cutting from a rosebush in their yard and they would happily oblige.

A number of years ago, my mother transplanted a few rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) seedlings from Miss Evelyn’s garden, and when Jack and I moved to Germantown, I got a few plants from mama’s garden. It is one of my favorite plants, easy to care for with a lovely color that really brightens our garden. Garden plants connect us to people in a way that nothing else can, and I treasure this rose campion as one of only a few plants I have from my mother’s garden. 

Although my mother and Evelyn did not remain next door neighbors all their lives, they did remain friends, both in good times and bad, supporting each other through the deaths of their husbands, the deaths of children, and all the other losses that life brings. My mother is in a nursing home now, suffering from dementia and a variety of health problems. Miss Evelyn passed away last weekend.

Mama still remembers her friends and family, but the world they inhabit in her mind does not exist in 2016. So I decided not to tell her about the death of her friend and attended the funeral in her stead. T
he first song in the service was “Walking Alone in the Garden,” and the officiant spoke about Miss Evelyn's love of gardening. This made me remember that rose campion and the day mama and I admired it in Miss Evelyn's garden.

When the rose campion blooms next spring, I will think of not only my own mother, but the gardener from whose garden the plant originally came. We’ll miss you Miss Evelyn.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

New Bloggers Join Garden Musings

In the coming weeks, we will have some additional bloggers contributing to Garden Musings. We hope that by broadening the pool of contributors, we'll be able to share a more varied range of gardening experiences and provide a richer source of gardening information.

Watch for posts by these new bloggers soon.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Design Ideas from the Asian Gardens at Discovery Park of America

When I think of Asian gardens, I typically think of a shady garden. However, Asian gardens can also be done quite well in a mostly sunny environment, as I learned this week when Jack, his mother, and I made a brief trip to the Discovery Park of America in Union City. 

Like most Asian gardens, water and stone are prominently featured. 

Consisting of two pieces of bamboo, an underground basin covered by some stones, and a small pump with tubing to recirculate the water, this little water feature could easily be replicated in a home garden. When we lived in Virginia, I constructed a similar water feature where the water seems to disappear into the ground, and if I can do it, anyone can! 

In this section of the garden, stones are used to convey the idea of a stream but without water. Notice the round gray stones curving around the large rock. Simple but effective.

The backdrop for the little dry stream shown above was a collection of large rocks (not so easy to replicate by a do-it-yourself gardener). The size and interesting forms of the rocks themselves provided most of the interest in this section.

While not in the typical pagoda shape, there was also a  structure with benches for seating, painted in the typical Japanese garden color: red.

In addition to this Asian garden area, the Discovery Park also has a European garden area, which contains many of the flowering plants and herbs that many of us have in our own gardens. I did not include pictures because (like our own gardens in late summer), most of the plants looked old and tired. This reminded me of an important consideration for garden design: how the landscape holds up in the heat and humidity of our southern summers.

There are many interesting things to see at the Discovery Park of America (most not related to horticulture), and the fact that they have beautiful landscaping and small gardens is just a plus. I'm thinking another trip in the spring might be in order.