Archive for the ‘garden maintenance’ Category

Up For Adoption

This lovely marsh mallow is blooming now in my compost heap. Look closely and you will see the compost and the grove of young avocados in the background.

I have written before about my slacker method of composting.

Every time my compost bucket gets full I take it down the hill and dump it on top of the mound of debris I have accumulated.  The wildlife pick through and harvest the choice bits.  Ever so often I add a layer of dried leaves or grass clippings.

My set-up is really an Old School compost heap.

It’s very white trashy but it is productive with almost no effort on my part.  And since the pile is in an out of the way spot, no one sees it but me.

I have a small nursery, so I also toss old seeds there and dump the contents of seed flats after I have given up on them.

Due to the unique contributions from the nursery, I have some interesting volunteers in the pile.

The heap has recently yielded a young marsh mallow (Kosteletzyka virginica).  This lovely native is blooming now with clear pink hibiscus-like flowers.

I’m sure this little jewel is a refugee from the a batch of Louisiana Cajun Prairie seedlings that I contract grew last year.  I was thrilled to see the Compost-eletzyka and I will find her a home in my Bee Meadow.

The heap is also populated with a righteous grove of avocado saplings.  At least a dozen have sprouted from the avocado pits I have thrown in the compost.

Avocado plants are not cold hardy here but they make wonderful house plants.  I may keep one as a pet but the rest will be up for adoption.

Ponytail Palm in Peril

Joe and Maybelle love to perch on the deck rails and launch attacks on the ponytail's grass-like leaves.

Joe, the Jungle Cat, pauses before going in for the kill.

About 32 years ago I worked at a greenhouse range in Pass Christian, Mississippi.

One of the greenhouses had a bench with flats and flats of tiny ponytail palm seedlings beneath.

One rainy day, when things were slow, I spent about an hour picking through the flats until I found the cutest little seedling with three tiny trunks.  It was about three inches tall.

I potted it into a small pot and it made several moves with me.  I continued to pot it into larger containers.  It is now over 7 feet tall and has fallen on hard times.

It is too heavy for me to move easily and is currently in a very large (20 inch plus) broken plastic pot.

The swollen base stores water but kitties know it is really the perfect scratching post.

Worst of all, a new generation of baby kitties have discovered it.

If I had known how attractive a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) is to a cat, I might never have made the commitment to this one.

The long flexible leaves are especially irresistible to kittens.  They climb the trunk or leap off the deck railing to gain access.

Ponytails are also called Elephant’s Foot Palms because with age the enlarged base of their stems becomes trunk-like and swollen to store water.  To humans it looks much like an elephant’s foot.   To a kitty it looks just like the perfect scratching post.

Over these 32 years, generations of kitties including Elwood, Luna, Thibadeaux, Rebob, Molly, Gilly, Bubba, Titah, Lemur, Jeeter and Cakester have frolicked in and on the ponytail palm.

Their shiny pointed teeth and sharp little claws have brought it perilously close to death.

Luckily for the ponytail palm the back garden offers many distractions.

Now the new kits on the block, Joe and Maybelle, have discovered it.  They are greatly enamored of it.  I fear that they will love it to death.  My only hope is that they are distracted by the many other wonderful plants in the area that may be tough enough to take a beating.   They do, after all, have their very own personal black bamboo grove and native plant garden.

In the meantime, I’m worried that the Plant’s Rights Activists may come knocking at my door.  So I have plans to go shopping for a giant pot and maybe a dolly so that I can move this behemoth.

I will probably need to prune the top growth to stimulate new leaves at a shorter height.

Then I will relocate the plant to the front porch – away from Joe and Maybelle for the remainder of the season

I’ve got my work cut out for me!


Okra Hydrangea

This 'Semmes Beauty' inflorescence contains both pristine white sterile florets and tiny creamy fertile florets.

I recently blogged about the exotic mophead hydrangea which I do dearly love.

My favorite hydrangea though is actually our native oakleaf hydrangea.

Hydrangea quercifolia is native to the southeastern United States and cold hardy to zone 5.

This shrub is usually found on wooded slopes growing in rich well drained soil.  It was first discovered and named by John Bartram in the late 1700’s When Bartram was exploring Georgia and Florida.

Oakleaf hydrangea or Okra (pronounced oak-ree) hydrangea has large lobed leaves similar in shape to a red oak or an okra plant.  The leaves are bold and hairy and often have wonderful burgundy fall color.

Older specimens develop peeling cinnamon colored bark.

Wild oakleaf hydrangeas are draped along the steep slopes on I-20 coming into Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Oakleaf hydrangea has a long cylindrical panicle shaped inflorescence.   It is pure white gradually taking on a pink hue as it dries on the plant.

The blossoms are composed of two types of florets.   Tiny inconspicuous fertile florets mature into small brown rounded seed capsules.   The more showy sterile florets are white and similar to paper cutouts.

These hydrangeas grow best if shaded during the hottest part of the day.   Eastern exposures with morning sun and afternoon shade are usually ideal.

Soil must have good drainage.   If soil drainage is less than perfect, plant on a slope or a slight mound so the rootball can shed water.

If soil is acid, add a little lime or a calcium containing fertilizer.  In the wild, plants thrive in soils with pH near neutral.

'Snowflake' blooms cheerfully in my front garden.

I have collected several forms of this beautiful native.  ‘Snowflake’ bears showy semi-double sterile flowers.  ‘Semmes Beauty’  is a large flowered selection from Mr. Tom Dodd.  I have also collected seed and have a form that I found along the Chunky River near Dunn’s Falls.

Like the mophead, this hydrangea blooms on old wood.  Plants can be pruned after flowering by heading back the taller stems to shape as needed.

Be sure to leave some stems with dried flowers, these will produce blooms for next year.

This hydrangea is so lovely that I would certainly hate to miss a year’s bloom!








This lovely mophead hydrangea is blooming now in my back garden.

Mophead hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) was part of every garden I remember from childhood.

Usually they were situated on the north side of the house in perpetual shade.

In early summer the huge rounded flower clusters looked like giant scoops of ice cream.

These hydrangeas are native to Japan but probably were first introduced into China before they made it west to Holland.   The Dutch grew them in greenhouses and introduced new varieties into other European countries.

The mopheads are cold hardy only to Zone 6.  In the U. S. they are strictly a southern thing and southern gardeners have truly embraced then.

The sterile flowers of this lacecap hydrangea look like paper cutouts. The tiny fertile flowers are in a cluster toward the inflorescence center.

Most hydrangea bloom clusters are a combination of showy sterile flowers that look like paper cutouts and tiny fertile flowers that can actually produce seed.   It is easy to see both these flower types in a lacecap hydrangea inflorescence. The mophead cousins have only sterile flowers and are not capable of producing fruit capsules or setting seed.

The hydrangeas of my childhood were usually pink.  I grew up in a town that was situated on Blackbelt prairie soil.   The soil was derived from limestone and so pH was high or alkaline.  In this type soil there is little free aluminum and mophead hydrangea blooms are often pink.

As a result, the blue flower clusters were more exotic to local gardeners and many resorted to chemistry to obtain the desired hue.   Iron sulfate, aluminum sulfate or ground sulfur were used to lower the pH.  The resulting acid soil contained more free aluminum and flowers were blue.

Creative gardeners sometimes even put sulfur compounds only on one side of the shrub resulting in a half pink / half blue / purple in the middle blooming shrub.  It was also common practice to bury rusty nails when planting one of these hydrangeas.  As the nails continued to rust in the soil they served as a timed release source of iron and the blooms remained blue.

During the years that I worked as a retail garden center salesperson, I sold lots of mophead hydrangeas.  They were also called bigleaf hydrangeas, garden hydrangeas, French hydrangeas or even “high geraniums”.

I advised my customers that no matter what they called the plant, it should be sited in an irrigated bed or in a situation where water could be supplied during drought.

Maybell and Joe Bob are quite taken with this mophead hydrangea flower.

The most common cultural question that customers asked me was about the pruning needs of the plant.  This hydrangea blooms on old wood.  In other words, if the shrub was cut to the ground or burned back during a hard winter it would skip a year of bloom.    So old established plants can be pruned like any old fashioned shrub – by cutting one third of the oldest stems to the ground.  Two-thirds of the stems remain and are capable of flowering.  This pruning method also will stimulate new growth from the shrub’s base and enhance the natural mounding growth habit.

Younger plants without so many stems can be shaped by cutting stems that flowered in the current season back to the desired height.  This is best done in summer after flowering when dried blooms are still present.  So a few of the stems with dried flowers can be headed back  and the remaining stems will surely bloom the following season.

The mopheads are not what I would call a subtle plant.  They are startling in full bloom with huge leaves and many rounded unusually colored flowers.

I think their main claim to fame is their usefulness in floral design.  Fresh flower stems will last for days.  They can then gradually dehydrate in the vase or hanging in a dark well ventilated area.  They retain their color and are popular in wreaths and dried flower arrangements.

Most old varieties bloom for about a month in late spring and early summer.   A few cultivars do bloom on new wood and so can rebloom through the summer whenever new stems are produced.  Penny McHenry, a hydrangea expert in the Atlanta area, discovered a reblooming variety that is called ‘Penny Mac’ in the trade.

A similar reblooming variety was patented and given the name ‘Endless Summer’.

I don’t much care for the concept of  an “Endless Summer”.  Here in Mississippi most of us are well over our romance with summer by the middle of July.   The thought of an endless Mississippi summer makes my head hurt.

So… I usually spec ‘Penny Mac’ on my landscape drawings.  It does rebloom and is cheaper because it is not a patented plant.






Steve is working the weed wrench.

I have been m. i. a. for about a week  now.  Due to a failed attempt to upgrade WordPress, my site was locked down until a kind person fixed the problem.

I am glad to be back in business!

This morning two other kind people, Steve and Terry, began working in my back garden.

They hauled in some gravel to go between the stepping stones and define the walk.

The powerful jaws clamp around the stem of an unwanted plant.

The biggest maintenance problem in a shade garden is that all sorts of shade loving woody plants sprout.

They are looking for a home in the southeastern temperate deciduous forest.  So… if other stuff is planted, they will claim the space.

Quite a few years ago, I discovered my wood’s propensity to revert to the forest.   On a whim, I bought a woody plant puller from New Tribe.

The taproot on this unwanted tree is about 3 feet long.

The plant puller is a wonderful thing – especially if wielded by someone with upper body strength.

It works like a fulcrum.  The ground level jaws attach to the crown of an unwanted plant.

Then the plant is wrenched out of the soil.  The tool is especially effective if the offending plant has a tap root.

And so, this spring, my friend Steve has cleared an abundance of privet.

He knows how to work that weed wrench.

It is grand!








As Durable as a Cast Iron Skillet

This beauty waits patiently for her haircut. She thrives in terrible soil and dense shade nestled in a sea of mondograss beneath the old Professor Sargent camellia.

When I moved into my house about 25 years ago, a couple of cast iron plants came with the landscape.  Over the years they have thrived and gradually attained an amazing girth.

Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) is an Asian lily relative.  Its 30″ bold coarse textured leaves impart a tropical appearance to the landscape.   With time this aspidistra slowly forms robust clumps from underground rhizomes.

Cast iron’s common name was certainly given due to its durability.   It thrives in dry shade where most other plants languish.   I would rate it as the easiest plant to grow as long as it is sited in a shady exposure with good drainage.  It is hardy through USDA Zone 7 and used as a container plant further north.

Around here, we haven’t had a freeze in almost two weeks and there is none in the forecast.  I have been running around like a maniac getting my garden ready for spring.  One of my goals for this year was to cut back the cast iron plant.

My plants have not been cut back since before Hurricane Katrina so needless to say they have many tattered leaves.  Removing the old leaves will provide space for the fresh new leaves that are about to emerge.

A view from the deck after the carnage. The large clumps in the foreground have been severely trimmed and the two behind are waiting their turn.

I started working on a massive clump in the front yard on Monday.  It took an hour and produced a substantial mound of leaves for the compost.

My friend Steve came over to help with the garden work  and he is cutting back the rest for me.

Yesterday he found a piece of statuary that had been swallowed by a particularly formidable clump of cast iron in the back yard.

There’s no telling what other treasures this project will unearth.

Due to the thinning, I might even find cast iron’s diminutive brownish-purple flowers.  They are borne at ground level and in their native habitat are pollinated by tiny soil-dwelling crustaceans.  The blooms are star-shaped and are normally hidden in the foliage.

I’ll be on the lookout!


Content Protected Using Blog Protector By: PcDrome.