Tuesday, April 25, 2017

R&R Me and Yew and Me and a Dilemma

Yew (Taxus)
I am half way through weeding and mulching my 14 flowerbeds. While working on a bed I call "The Island of Unwanted Plants" (a bed mostly populated with shrubs I've pulled out of customers landscapes) I pulled out seedlings from my three Yews (Taxus). The seedlings were about the same size as the three I transplanted some 16 years ago when my wife brought them back from her parents house in Bush, Louisiana. Now the Yews are 8-15 feet tall, the shortest one having survived my accidentally mowing over it a couple times. It's always good to see a plant thrive in your landscape and it's especially nice when there is a connection to your past. As our ancestors immigrated to this strange new world I'm sure they brought plants from their homeland mainly to remind them of their former life. Coming from the Coastal South to the Mid South meant a lot of familiar plants just wouldn't work as well here as there so the Yews doing well has been nice. That's the good news.
Now for my dilemma: my Crepe Myrtles (Lagerstroemia) have Crepe Myrtle Bark Scale (CMBS). Fortunately, the infestation is not widespread, yet. In order to stop/control the spread of CMBS I took a sponge and a bucket of water and washed off as much as I could reach with my 8 foot ladder. I did this to three Crepe Myrtles and I was surprised at how quickly the water turned dirty. The need to frequently change the water made this a laborious process. So for a different three Crepe Myrtles I put on my neoprene gloves and " massaged" the bark, rubbing off the scale. This went a lot quicker though I must have looked like a nut to anyone passing by-talk about your tree hugger. My goal is to see how well each method controls CMBS. I'll be checking every few days to see if CMBS returns and if so how quickly; as that great Zen philosopher, Yogi Berra, once noted "you can observe a lot by watching".
My dilemma is what happens if this "hands on" approach doesn't work and I am left with the option to use a neonictinoid chemical to systemically removed the CMBS. Neonictinoids, chemicals such as imidiacloprid, have been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees. These chemicals are indiscriminate pesticides and degrade very slowly. So the dilemma is how do you choose between  crepe myrtles and bees; to save one could harm the other. I try to be a good steward of the environment but I am not a 100% organic gardener. The potential loss of pollinators is a cause of real concern and I try to practice Integrated Pest Management, impacting the environment as little as possible, but where to draw the line.
Another example of this is the overuse of nitrogen fertilizer. With the Mississippi River draining over half the land mass of the continental United States the runoff of excess nitrogen has caused a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is basically 80 miles by 80 miles just south of the mouth of the river. In addition, excess nitrogen causes algae blooms that periodically have killed off aquatic life off coastal Florida. Anyone with the answer, please let me know.

Since it's still Spring I'll finish with two short Emily Dickinson

A little Madness in the Spring

Image result for emily dickinsonA little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the king
But God be with the Crown-
Who ponders this tremendous scene-
This whole Experiment of Green-
As if it were his own!

I cannot meet Spring unmoved

I cannot meet Spring unmoved-
I feel the old desire-
A Hurry with a lingering, mixed,
A Warrant to be fair

A Competition in my sense
With something hid in Her-
An as she vanishes, Remorse
I saw no more of Her.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


The New Southern Living Garden Book calls this plant “as common as barbecue and beer.”  No, the reference is not to azaleas or crab grass, but instead to the perennial loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum), also know as Chinese  fringe-flower.  It is indeed everywhere in and about our county and available at most plant sales and garden centers.  In early spring the pink flowers of loropetalum signal the change of seasons, along with the yellow blooms of daffodils and forsythia, and although by mid-April those pink blooms are gone, the attractive burgundy-colored foliage will endure throughout the year. 

Its popularity is due not only to its beauty but to its resistance to disease and pests and its varied uses as an understory plant.  Native to the Far East, it is happy in our climate, thrives in partial to full sun (and will tolerate shade), needs only moderate amounts of water, and is deer resistant.   The rubrum variety grows 8-15 feet tall, but shorter, more compact cultivars are available.
Loropetalum at Sally Hillard Mini-Park at Evergreen and Belvedere
Loropetalum prefers acid or neutral soil and can exhibit signs of chlorosis (yellow leaves with green veins) if the soil is too alkaline.

The genus name Loreopetalum describes the flower shape and combines two Greek words, loron meaning strap and petalon meaning petal. The strap-shaped petals form in clusters similar to witch hazel blossoms; both plants are in the Hamamelidaceae family.

I learned about this perennial when I moved into my house and found two five-foot-tall shrubs in the backyard.  I didn't recognize it; certainly, my flower-loving grandmother never grew it, since it wasn't introduced into the country until the late 1980s or early 1990s. It took me awhile to roll the name off my tongue (thanks to Mary Wade), and I have progressed to giving friends and even strangers lectures on the plant in grocery stores, in bank parking lots, and on street corners.  A year or so ago, in a gardening article in the Commercial Appeal, Chris Gang recommended loropetalum and ocala anise as good choices for screens or borders.  Since I have experience with both in my
Larger shrub in Evergreen Historic District
landscape, of course I recommended these shrubs to a friend who was searching for a privacy screen between her front porch and the neighboring porch only a few feet away.  

Lorepetalum is more than just a shrub, however, although most specimens are shrub-like, growing in a natural mounding shape.  Mine were, until they outgrew themselves into gangly, seven-foot tall masses, so that in February I cut them back.  They are pitiful now, but I had seen this dire step in process in a nearby landscape and knew that the plants would become the shrubs I want in a year or two.

Sheared loropetalum at Regions Bank on Cleveland Street
Loropetalum can be sheared into a formal hedge like boxwood, as was the case in front of the Regions Bank on Cleveland Street.   There is a wilder version of the loropetalum hedge near My Big Backyard at the Memphis Botanic Garden.  A row of six-foot-tall (at least) Loropetalum lanceum, the white flowering species, lines the entry walk.

Loropetalum can be limbed up to make a single-trunked small tree.  I have seen several examples of this in my neighborhood, with the tree usually located at the corner of a house.  It can also be espaliered to a fence or wall.  I have read that it can be used for bonsai.

I have just removed a dead gardenia beside my front porch and am wondering what to put in its place. Should it be another gardenia (not likely), an azalea (possibility), a Little Lime hydrangea (strong possibility), or something else?  Maybe I should choose one of the compact versions of loropetalum that I keep recommending to everyone else! 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dealing with Freeze Damage

I'm sure that all of us are dealing with damage from the freeze we had mid-March. After a very warm February, most plants had already begun to show signs of spring: deciduous magnolias and azaleas were blooming; and ferns, hosta, and other herbaceous perennials had sprouted. Then, on March 15, the nighttime temperature in my neighborhood was 26. Although I have a few frost blankets, I did not cover any of my plants. So many were at risk that the task seemed impossible.

Although it was sad to see so many plants suffer from the cold, it was interesting to see how the same species were affected differently, depending on the specific cultivar and location of the plant. Take azaleas, for instance.  Some of my azaleas had been blooming since early March, and the fully-opened blooms on these were completely ruined by the cold. This was not a terrible loss since their blooms would have been declining very soon anyway. On others (see picture below), the blooms froze on the parts of the plants that were more exposed (and thus the blooms were farther along),  and the parts of the plant where the buds had not yet opened were spared and have since flowered.

What to do about cold damage on azaleas? I don't intend to do anything until the azaleas have finished blooming. Then I'll prune as I usually do. Admittedly, the freeze-damaged blooms are unattractive and seem to be taking longer to fall off the plant than an undamaged bloom would, but I'll wait and see what happens.

Quite a few of our hosta were also damaged by the cold. Some had not yet broken through the ground, and others were barely peeking through. These were not damaged at all. Others had broken dormancy to various extents, and these were damaged to varying degrees. 

Here is a cultivar called 'Fragrant Bouquet' that had a few stalks emerged and was somewhat affected by the cold weather. The older leaves on the left side of the picture are a bit crinkled and deformed, but I will probably leave them on the plant and hope that the new foliage will be enough to disguise them.

Here is another 'Fragrant Bouquet,' planted in the same bed, that was completely turned to mush by the cold. Go figure. I will completely remove these stalks once the new ones begin to appear.

And finally, here is a different cultivar (not sure which) that was fully emerged when the cold came, yet seems to be unaffected.

For me, the list of plants affected by the late cold is a fairly long one. My hardy orchids (Bletilla striata) were fully up with buds about to open, and they were all killed back. They are cold hardy to zone 5 so I'm not too worried about their ultimate survival, but I don't expect to get flowers this year. 

The plants I worry about are the ones that are borderline hardy in our area, like the paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha). It had already pushed out new leaves, and they seemed to have been stopped in their tracks by the cold. They did not turn brown and crispy but neither have they continue to grow. 

The paperbush pushes up new shoots from the root each spring, seen as the green center in this otherwise still-brown plant. I typically cut these shoots back each year because I like the branching structure that is visible in the winter. This spring, I will wait to see how well the old part of the plant recovers. If it doesn't, these new shoots will become the plant, and I will cut away the old part. I don't think that will happen but I will be patient before pruning away the new shoots.

Speaking of patience, in one of my earlier posts, I talked about using a warm February day to cut away the old foliage on our autumn ferns. I wish I had shown more patience in that case. By cutting back the old foliage and revealing the crown to the warm sun, I encouraged early new growth that was too tender to withstand the cold temperatures. By cutting back too early, I left the tender emerging fronds to face the cold without the protection that the old foliage would have provided.

Hopefully, we are safe from freezes and frosts for this spring, but only Mother Nature knows. While the rule of thumb for the frost free date is April 15 for our area, it is good to be reminded that there is always the risk of the occasional exception. According to the National Weather service, the latest recorded spring frost date (36 degrees and below) for Memphis is May 4 and the latest freeze date (32 degrees and below) is April 25.