Grow this! Confederate rose

Like aspiring Hollywood actors, there are some lesser known fall-blooming garden plants that perform brilliantly in our gardens, but are rarely found in the marketplace.  These plants have beauty, talent, and the ability to make passersby stop for a longer look.  Some of them have even been around for a long time.  Nevertheless, they aren’t as easilyConfederate rose_3 (2) recognized from the street as garden mums, asters, or goldenrods.

As a self-appointed publicity agent for lesser-known plants,  I would like to promote Confederate rose in this month’s issue.  Confederate rose (Hibiscus mutabilis) was new to me when I arrived in South Carolina   I first heard about it from the late Jim Wilson, the former cohost of PBS’ The Victory Garden.  Mr. Wilson told me that this Chinese native has been passed along over the years by generations of southern gardeners.

When I first saw this plant in bloom one October morning several autumns ago, I had to stop the car to take a closer look.  Standing over 10 feet all and taking up more than 5 feet of lawn, this woody, multistemmed shrub had red, pink, and white peonylike flowers—all on the same plant.  I was awestruck.

True to its species name—mutabilis—which means “changing”, Confederate rose flowers open up white and then change to pink and then to red before they begin to fade.   Some cultivars of Confederate rose, such as ‘Plena,’ have double-flowers that change from white to pink.  ‘Flore-plena’ is a common cultivar that has doublConfederate rose_1 (2)e pink, camellialike flowers.  Two cultivars with single flowers include raspberry-red flowered ‘Raspberry Rose’ and the scarlet colored ‘Rubus.’

Confederate rose prefers full sun to partial shade in a well-drained location.  In the Piedmont, the woody stems die back to the ground when temperatures drop to 15 degrees F.  However, new shoots slowly emerge in the spring.

Confederate rose may never get the lucky break it deserves to become famous, mostly because it spends most of the growing season looking rather ordinary with large, fuzzy, sycamorelike leaves.  It’s also relatively pest-free, and so demands little attention or interest from gardeners for most of the time.  It’s not until late September and October when Confederate rose makes its debut that people take notice.  Believe me, it’s worth waiting to see her in bloom.

Unfortunately, Confederate rose is not very common in the nursery trade.  It’s probably because it’s difficultConfederate rose_4 (2) to sell a plant without flowers.  Thankfully, we can always find the opportunity to befriend someone who’s already growing a Confederate rose with the hope of receiving a handful of passalong cuttings.

With the owner’s permission (who has now become your new best friend), take a few cuttings now and root them in water.  Jim Wilson said that his wife Jane used to overwinter cuttings in a pail of water.  In the spring she potted them up and passed them along to friends and acquaintances.   I’ve rooted a few cuttings in water and found that they’re perfect confidence-builders for people who are timid or inexperienced at rooting garden plants.  There’s nothing to it.  Just put them in water and stand back.

One piece of advice that Jim Wilson shared with me: “Don’t plant Confederate rose unless you like havin’ lots of company.”

© Bob Polomski 2015

Great 21st Century Plantsmen

Donglin and kevin parris_2015

Donglin Zhang, Ph.D., on the left and Kevin Parris on my right.

Over my career I have had the good fortune of meeting many plantsmen and plantswomen who have made invaluable and innumerable contributions to horticulture. This morning I had the good fortune of spending an hour with two of them in the SC Botanic Garden in Clemson, SC. Dr. Donglin Zhang is the Michael A. Dirr Endowed Chair Professor for Woody Plant Instruction and Introduction at the University of Georgia in Athens. My friend, Kevin Parris, is the Horticulture Instructor/ Arboretum Director at Spartanburg Community College. Kevin is an internationally recognized magnolia breeder who has introduced a number of plants to the industry, namely Kay Parris southern magnolia, which he fondly wrote about in a Journal of the Magnolia Society International article in 2010. Here’s an excerpt:

“As time has gone by I have been pleased that “Kay” has taken a place alongside the other M.
grandiflora matriarchs such as ‘Claudia Wanna- maker’, ‘Edith Bogue’, ‘Phyllis Barrow’, and ‘Margaret Davis’. Knowing that there are real people behind the inspiration and existence of cultivated plants makes the hope of future discoveries and honorary tributes a noble endeavor in my mind. It is very difficult to describe the reward of seeing a whimsical notion come alive and make its way across the waters of this earth. In North Carolina, New Jersey, Virginia, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, China, Canada, Colombia, and elsewhere, people may be saying, “Who in the world is Kay Parris?” Now you know.”

We toured the Garden and admired a wide array of plants, especially the deciduous and evergreen magnolias. Gentlemen, it was an amazing experience for me. Thank you.

Turn your landscape into a “foodscape.”

Over a quarter century ago, Rosalind Creasy published The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping which popularized the concept of landscaping with edible plants: “a yard that is both productive and beautiful.” Her seminal book erased the lines that separate edibles from ornamentals and ultimately changed how Americans look at fruit trees, squash vines, and flowering herbs.

Covers Round 2_rev.indd

Paperback, 176 Pages. $24.99 paperback. ISBN: 978-1591866275 171 color photos. Published by Cool Springs Press: May 6, 2015

Many Southern gardeners embraced this concept, including the first lady of the University of South Carolina, Patricia Moore-Pastides. On a fall visit to the Columbia campus last year, I marveled at a flower bed of cool season annuals growing cheek-by-jowl with an attractive assortment of red cabbage, Swiss chard, and kale.

Following Creasy’s footsteps is Charlie Nardozzi with Foodscaping: practical and innovative ways to create an edible landscape ($24.99 paperback; ISBN: 978-1591866275; 171 color photos; Cool Springs Press, 2015). He sums up the premise of his book in the Introduction: “Foodscaping is integrating edibles into your gardens without sacrificing beauty. It’s a great way to produce food for yourself and your community and still have the beauty and functionality you want in the landscape.” Nardozzi writes with a reassuring tone and gains your trust immediately. The author makes you believe that it’s possible to grow food without sacrificing beauty.

In Chapter 1, Ways and Places to Grow Food, Nardozzi encourages us to re-imagine our front and backyards by blurring the boundaries between ornamentals and edibles. I have to admit that using edibles in foundation plantings or hedgerows seems ludicrous, but the luscious images that complement the text makes it work.

The second chapter, Foodscaping 101, is a crash course in designing with edibles, evaluating and retrofitting your landscape with edibles, and learning how to substitute ornamental plants with “foodscaping plants.” Nardozzi reminds the reader that edibles can taste as good as they look. His lists of “Foodscape varieties with interesting leaf colors” and “Foodscape plants with seasonal color interest” makes me want to venture away from the traditional backyard vegetable garden and to the front yard. If it’s a violation of subdivision covenants to integrate vegetables and herbs in my foundation plantings of coneflowers, four o’clocks, loropetalum, and milkweed, so be it.

In Chapter 3, My Favorite Foodscape Plants, Nardozzi discusses 43 of his favorite vegetables, herbs and flowers, edible annual flowers, groundcovers, berry shrubs, vines, and fruit trees that “taste great.” Despite the national scope of this book, Nardozzi reaches out to Southern gardeners. He writes about southern highbush and rabbiteye blueberry varieties in “Blueberry” and muscadines in “Grapes.” Thankfully, there’s plenty of room in the margins of each page for jotting down additional varieties and ideas for your foodscape.

Finally, when I got to the last chapter, I knew I was hooked. The author knows that as well in the first line of Chapter 4, Plant, Grow, and Harvest, “Now that you’ve gotten inspired….” Nardozzi covers the nuts-and-bolts of site selection, pre-planting, planting, pruning, watering, fertilizing, harvesting, and composting. I enjoyed his discussion of Integrated Pest Management and foodscaping, rotating vegetable families, and attracting beneficial insects with vegetables and herbs.

Nardozzi admits that his book is not the ultimate resource for foodscapers, so he provides a section on Supplies and Resources for gardeners to delve further into specific variety recommendations or cultural practices. Rounding out this 176-page book is the USDA Hardiness Zone map, Glossary, and Index.

Charlie Nardozzi’s Foodscaping will help you create an edible landscape that tastes as good as it looks.

© Bob Polomski 2015

You want flowers and more flowers? Grow glossy abelia

Canyon Creek glossyabelia

Canyon Creek glossy abelia with bronze-red new leaves that change to variegated yellow and gold.

You want flowers? Glossy abelia (Abelia xgrandiflora) will give you flowers–plenty of them over a long period of time. This hybrid (A. chinensis x A. uniflora) originated in Italy before 1866 and has been in cultivation for more than a century. It remains as one of the most popular shrubs for gardens. White, flushed pink tubular flowers emerge from May until frost. When you look at the flowers individually, you’ll say, “Yeah, so what.” Step back and look at the flowers smothering the leaves and you’ll find yourself saying, “Holy cow!” This cast-iron shrub is not fazed by heat or drought; sun or shade is acceptable although full sun results in the best floral display. It has not significant insect or disease problems.

The typical height of the species is 3 to 6 ft. high and wide (18 to 20 ft. high specimens at the Keith Arboretum in Chapel Hill, NC), but you should consider cultivars that offer a range of sizes, forms, and flower colors. My current favorites are ‘Canyon Creek’, ‘John Creech’, ‘Kaleidoscope’, ‘Little Richard’ and ‘PIIAB-I’ Golden Fleece™.

While other shrubs and trees go in and out of bloom, count on glossy abelia to charm you with a seemingly never-ending floral display.

© Bob Polomski 2015

A natural approach to managing weeds

Some folks believe that applying a herbicide is the only way of controlling marauding lawn weeds. Not true. The first line of defense against any weed is proper lawn management. A well-managed lawn outcompetes weeds for sunlight, water, and nutrients.

Two basic lawn management practices that can either “make” or “break” a lawn–opening it up to weed infestations–are mowing and fertilizing. Follow these simple rules to avoid thin, weak stands of turf:

  • Mow with a sharp mower blade to cut the grass cleanly, which ensures rapid healing and regrowth.
  • Mow at the proper height for your lawn to help the grass tolerate summer heat and stress.
  • Remove no more than one-third of the grass height at any one mowing. Avoid “scalping” your
    scalped bermuda lawn 1

    Never show your neighbors how low you can mow by “scalping” your lawn, which refers to cutting the turf so low that it exposes the lower grass stems and sometimes the soil surface.

    to avoid having to mow it often. Not only do you make the lawn look like it’s been mowed with a blow-torch, but you stress the lawn grasses and create opportunities for weed invasions.

  • Fertilize lawn grasses with the right amount of fertilizer based on soil test results and at the proper time of year.

When you find patches of weeds growing in your lawn, figure out what sparked the invasion. If the basic cause is not corrected, weeds will continue to be a problem despite your many attempts at trying to get rid of them.

Select the best weed control method. Handpull a few weeds rather than taking more drastic measures. Perennial weeds that come back year after year from underground plants parts can be handpulled when the soil is moist.

If you choose to use a herbicide, make sure that you read and following the label directions carefully.

By managing your lawn properly, you can help your lawn fight weeds naturally.

© Bob Polomski 2015

IPM: a sensible, knowledgeable approach to managing landscape pests

By now you realize that as you venture into your landscape, you’re not alone. Yes, it’s a jungle out there. Like the characters of  Wizard of Oz trudging into the dark forest, you may be chanting “Aphids and borers, and mites, oh my!” Sure, we share our shrubs and trees with a wide assortment of insects, diseases, viruses, and bacteria. Some of these pests are as fond of your newly plahibiscus and beented crapemyrtle as you are. Fortunately, some pests are fodder for helpful, beneficial critters that feast on them, thereby protecting our shrubs and trees.

When you encounter pests in your landscape, deal with them sensibly. Avoid the typical knee-jerk response to apply a pesticide to vanquish the pest. After all, you may end up killing beneficial insects and as the saying goes, “kill a beneficial insect and you inherit its job.” To manage pests this year, follow a game plan that involves knowledge and common sense. It’s called Integrated Pest Management or IPM for short. It’s a decision-making process that involves the following four components:

  1. Monitor your landscape for the presence of harmful and beneficial organisms. Inspect your shrubs and trees on a regular basis. Examine them for signs and symptoms of pests. Generally, most plants have few problems if they are planted in the right location and receive proper care.

While examining your plants for problems, check them for beneficial insects–the arch enemies of insect pests.  Beneficial organisms consist of predators, parasites, and diseases. Predators kill and eat their prey. Parasites live in or on their prey, feeding on its tissues and eventually killing it.   Beneficial pathogens consist of a variety of viruses, fungi and bacteria that naturally infect and kill harmful pests.

By monitoring the garden and landscape, you have more options for controlling pest problems when you detect them early

  1. Identify harmful and beneficial organisms.Determine if the pest has the potential to cause cosmetic or health damage. To help you ID beneficial insects in your landscape, see Beneficial Insects, Butterflies, and More Around the Home and Garden.
  1. Evaluate the extent of the pest problem and decide if pest management tactics are warranted. While it’s difficult at times to accept any kind of plant damage, some is just cosmetic and poses no real harm to the plant. For example,  fall webworms and gall-forming insects are common pests that produce unsightly webs and galls, but do not necessarily threaten the health of the plant.Southern pine beetles, on the other hand, demand immediate action when a tree exhibits signs of an infestation. Southern pine beetle-infested trees need to be felled and  removed quickly to suppress outbreaks that will afflict nearby pines.
  1. Choose appropriate control measures. Try cultural and mechanical controls first. A cultural approach could be proper watering and fertilizing to help shrubs and trees cope with or outgrow the injury. Mechanical controls involve handpicking insects and discarding them in a jar of soapy water, dislodging them from tree branches with a strong spray of water from the hose, or pruning out heavily infested or infected shoots.

Consider a pesticide only as a last resort: when pest levels have reached damaging levels and your other tactics have not been successful. Use pesticides sparingly to control the targeted pest. Before purchasing and using any pesticide, read the label and follow all directions and precautions.

Keep in mind that healthy landscapes have a wide variety of beneficial creatures as well as a tolerable levels of damaging critters. With IPM you work with Mother Nature to maintain this balance while keeping harmful pests at bay.

© Bob Polomski 2015

Christmas in July? It must be bagworms

bagworm bags

Inside each spindle-shaped bag is the larva of the leaf- and ~needle-eating bagworm ( )..

Sometimes I need to heed my own advice and spend more time scouting my garden and landscape for problems. As we all know, small problems tend to be easier to solve than big ones. This past weekend, I ran into a big problem with my Atlantic white cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides), which was adorned with a variety of nearly identical “Christmas ornaments”. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that Christmas was more than 5 months away, and that these nature-based “ornaments” hanging from the scantily clad limbs were the handiwork of bagworms (Thyridopteryx ephemeraeformis).

Bagworms, the larval or caterpillar stage of a moth that is rarely seen, defoliate many other conifers, including juniper, arborvitae, cypress, spruce, and hemlock.  They also will consume the leaves of many other trees. In fact, these voracious buggers attack more than 120 species of woody ornamentals, including deciduous shrubs and trees such as black locust, buckeye, elm, honeylocust, maple, sycamore, and willow.

Heavy bagworm infestations can lead to branch dieback.  Sometimes trees can be killed outright, especially after having been completely defoliated over one or two seasons.

These gourmands of the insect world intrigue me, mostly because of the spindle-shaped bags constructed by the young caterpillars or larvae as they feed.  Each larva builds a bag of silk and bits of leaves and twigs from the host plant so its appearance varies from plant to plant.

Unbeknownst to me, the bagworms larvae were feasting and toting their bags for 8 to 10 weeks; they gradually enlarge their bags with every molt. When the larvae reach full size, they stop feeding and secure their one- to two-inch long bags to a twig to pupate. About a month later in September and early October, the brown furry male moths with clear wings will emerge, fly to the wingless females, and mate with them inside her bag.

Although the female bagworm is a moth, she doesn’t look like one.  She has no wings, eyes, legs, antennae, or functional mouthparts.  In fact, her soft yellowish-white body never leaves the bag.  After mating, she lays 500 to 1,000 eggs inside her bag before dying, encasing her clutch with her mummified body.  There is only one generation a year.

The best course-of-action right now is to remove the bags by hand to interrupt mating and to reduce next year’s population. These bags may be difficult to remove without damaging the twig, so pruning shears may be necessary to cut the threads. From my single 5 ½-foot tall Atlantic cedar, I picked and discarded 132 bags. Sadly, my wife or daughter expressed no interest in this task; they didn’t believe me when I told them that it was like removing ornaments from a Christmas tree.

OK, I’ve learned my lesson. Next year I’ll be on the lookout for small bagworm caterpillars emerging in late May or June. Egg hatching begins when the black locust flowers begin to fade and is complete when the Japanese tree lilacs are in full bloom. When the young larvae start feeding and building their bags, I will consider applying the bacterial insecticide, Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Dipel® or Thuricide®) or spinosad (Ferti-Lome® Borer, Bagworm, Leafminer & Tent Caterpillar Spray or Spinosad). See “Less Toxic Insecticides” for additional controls.

This weekend I felt that I was alone in my battle against bagworms, but I’m not.  Working in concert with my efforts are birds and several ichneumonid and chalcid wasps that parasitize the larvae.  Also, low winter temperatures can damage the overwintering eggs. I just hope that next year the birds, parasites, and parasitoids that relish bagworms pick up their game so I won’t have to.

© Bob Polomski 2015