Horticulture December 2023
Genus/species: Hibiscus mutabilis
Common Name(s): Confederate Rose, Cotton Rose, Cotton Rose Mallow, Fuyo.
Features: Deciduous multi-branch shrub that grows 8 – 10 feet tall. In warmer areas, it can become a tree. Fast-growing plants are easily propagated from stem cuttings. Large, elliptical to ovate leaves, lobed with palmate veins and sawtooth dentate margins.
Origin: Imported from China to the US in the 17 th century. Not to be confused with native mallows including Hibiscus moscheutos (Rose mallow) and Hibiscus coccineus (Scarlet rose mallow).
Bloom: Late summer-fall. Peony-like blooms open pale pink or white, darken to bright pink, then red during the one day each lives. Buds develop in a cluster reminiscent of cotton bolls and open on progressive days. The name “Confederate rose” has a romantic origin. Grown in the gardens of the South, bouquets of the “roses” were given to returning Confederate soldiers. According to legend, a soldier fell near a white rose bush. As he lay bleeding the flowers turned pink, then red, and then dropped off when the soldier died.
Size: Height: 10 ft. 0 in. – 12 ft. 0 in. Width: 8 ft. 0 in. – 10 ft. 0 in.
Requirements: Pruning, feeding and mulching are somewhat optional. Grows best in rich moist soil in full sun, but tolerates drought, poor drainage, and light shade.
Recommended uses: Flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Members of the genus Hibiscus support the bee Ptilothrix bombiformis. Often placed at the back of a garden or as a specimen plant.
Photographed by: Maureen Loomer, in Aiken, South Carolina.
Horticulture Corner-December 2023 (part 2)
By Maureen Loomer
I heard a bird sing in the dark of December. A magical thing and sweet to remember.
“We are nearer to Spring than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing in the dark of December
— Oliver Herford, American writer and illustrator (1863–1935)
Looks like the shortage of Christmas trees from the past couple of years is a memory! Garden centers are full.
Plants for December: November’s birth flower was chrysanthemum according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. If your birthday falls in December, your two birth flowers are holly and paperwhite narcissus. Unless you live with someone with SEVERE respiratory allergies, you hopefully will enjoy the aromatic company of paperwhite narcissus whose bulbs are too tender for outdoors. Our American hollies are wonderful evergreen shrubs and trees with many cultivars. I photographed some magnificent trees shading a downtown parking lot during a trip to Aiken, SC. The berries borne by the female plants are an important food source for deer, squirrels, and 18 bird species https://www.wildflower.org/expert/show.php?id=5103
USDA Plant Hardiness Map: Climate information gathered since the USDA’s last map has led to a change for the New Bern are (formerly 8A on the 2012 map) to 8B (15-20ºF). https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/
Mulch and Fire Hazard: Fallen leaves left in place and other organic materials have considerable value as mulch. Pine straw is especially favored for azaleas, camellias, and other southern favorites as its lighter weight promotes water and air circulation and slow release of its nitrogen while inhibiting weed growth and soil erosion. It dries quickly and is highly flammable.
As of Nov.30, we are among the isolated areas that have had some relief from the “flash drought” I reported elsewhere in this newsletter. Most of our state remains in some degree of water deficit, worst in the mountains
This should remind all of us of the wildfire disasters in Hawaii, Canada, and elsewhere. A discussion came up during a Master Gardener’s workshop I attended in September where one attendee stated that the fire chief in his county asked homeowners to reduce or eliminate pine straw mulch to lower home fire risk.
Fire risk mitigation can be done in many ways and I found an excellent USDA-University of Florida study discussing this subject. Among other things, the investigators pointed out that while pine straw has faster ignition and spread than other mulching materials, this can be mitigated by changing is more frequently (dry straw should be removed at least twice a year).
Avian Flu Update: Members may recall my April article on highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), caused by the H5N1 virus spread through contact with the saliva, nasal secretions, and feces of infected birds. The academic and governmental sources I cited concluded that, because backyard feeders present no direct threat to the commercial poultry flocks for which the virus is lethal, homeowners can safely leave their feeders in place. Guidance from reliable sources continues to support this conclusion. Trent Woods ordinances disallow backyard poultry flocks but owners of these flocks should know that they should protect their birds’ food from contamination by waterfowl and aquatic/shorebirds that are the primary wild spreaders of HPAI.
I am always delighted to address any questions about this or any topic of environmental health, conservation, horticulture, or other member interests
Until next time…
Horticulture Corner – November 2023
By Maureen Loomer
If you’re drivin’ by in autumn, you should follow up the river to Bear Lake
That’s the time to see the colors, there’s an old covered bridge you’ll want to take…
But follow that road, sugar maples far as you can see
Follow that road, back through time, back through distance, back to me.
–Ann Hills and Tom Paxton, songwriters
Another MumFest is history and was successful from what I saw on opening day. This is the time of year that I wish SOMEONE would develop a chrysanthemum that doesn’t need deadheading. My geraniums and cosmos that swooned with the heat have resurrected themselves. That dose of Osmocote in August worked a treat. My perennials have mostly gone to seed but the dwarf morning glories, cuphea, and salvias remain in full bloom to the delight of the butterflies and hummingbirds. My sister’s susanquas are covered with buds and blooms are popping. Although camellias are not native to the US, I really appreciate their evergreen foliage and fall-into-winter blooms. My sister says the cultivar pictured is “Kanjiro”.
Eastern North Carolina autumns may be a little disappointing to folks from other parts of the country due to our low elevation and lower abundance of hardwoods relative to evergreens. Last week, my sister and I traveled to the western piedmont to attend a charity event at Tryon International Equestrian Center. We had great weather and saw spectacular colors and were glad to have passed on the State Fair when we saw the traffic headed there. Tryon is about a 6-hour drive from Trent Woods and a good jumping-off place if you want to drive further into the Blue Ridge. This article from ASU is handy for estimating the fall color peak from the foothills to the mountains.
Wanted: The Perfect Tree: Member Cathy McAllister and husband Jeff spend part of the year at their 400+ acre farm in Magazine, Arkansas. Cathy and Jeff raise British White Park and Black Angus cattle as well as some sheep on this chunk of paradise and I am so jealous. Cathy asked me to suggest a tree to plant in the center of a circular drive where they want shade. The challenge is that the tree must be evergreen, the planting area is sloped, fully exposed to sun and wind, and the soil is poor (shale and clay). This is USDA Zone 7. Thuja, cedars, and most pines are not typically thought of as shade trees but loblolly pine and red cedar could be a possibility. They can be a little messy for a driveway, though. My initial thought was my sentimental favorite the Eastern Hemlock. Zone 7 is the southernmost part of its range. I also suggested she look into the evergreen oaks https://extensiongardener.ces.ncsu.edu/gardening-publications-2/extgardener-previous-newsletters/extgardener-past-features/extgardener-evergreen-oaks-hearty-trees-for-the-south/
I love questions and challenges! Feel free to email me with YOUR suggestions!
Until next month
Horticulture September 2023
2017 NC Wildflower of the Year (North Carolina Botanical Garden with support from Garden Club of North Carolina).
Genus/species: Eutrochium fistulosum (previously Eupatorium fistulosum) also Eupatorium Purpureum.
The Joe-Pye Weeds have been assigned to the genus
Eupatoriadelphus to separate them from the Bonesets ( Eupatorium). Some sources still refer to this species as Eupatorium. The genus Eupatoriadelphus differs from the genus Eupatorium by whorled leaves, while Eupatorium has opposite leaves.
Common Name(s): Hollow Joe-Pye Weed, Hollow-stemmed Joe-pye-weed, Joe-Pye-Weed, Purple Thoroughwort, Queen of the Meadow, Trumpetweed.
Features: Native herbaceous perennial typically found in the low moist ground of meadows, woods, and fields. From July through September vanilla-scented pink, blooms attract pollinators. Songbirds may eat the seeds.
Duration and habit: Perennial clumping herb
Leaf: Dark green, serrated, lanceolate, and hairless.
Size: 4 feet ( Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’) to 7 feet tall (‘Coastal Joe-Pye’). Origin: S. ME to IL, s. to FL & e. TX
Requirements: Prefers full sun to partial shade and neutral to slightly acid soils. This plant is moderately resistant to damage from deer. Can grow to 12 feet if kept moist all season.
Recommended uses: Pollinator, naturalized and woodland gardens.
Collected by: Maureen Loomer, from her garden
Bulbous Iris’ Maureen Loomer’s front garden
Margaret Raynor’s Abraham Darby Roses
Horticulture Corner- June 2022 By Maureen Loomer “Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.” –Russell Baker (1925-2019), Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Paula Hartman is trying to save a swooning clivia (a beautiful succulent I have not seen since I left California), and this inspired me to do a “catch up” on how member gardens are faring as we enter our summer season. Fungus Among Us! Dawn Staats asked me for advice about what she feared was a collection of insect nests near her backyard seating. Her photos showed gray-beige globes that looked suspiciously like white-faced hornet nests and May is when they start new colonies in tree branches. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/controlling-bald-faced-hornets-and-yellow-jackets-in-and-around-structures . These turned out to be a fungus although what kind is unclear. White fungus (also called oak bracket fungus) is common with injured trees. I look forward to hearing from Dawn on how this turned out. With our humid climate, mildew is the most common fungal problem. Good ventilation is the best prevention. Iris(t) My Case. Several members asked about my beardless irises. I brought some of my bulbous irises (probably a dutch hybrid) to the May meeting. I brought some of my rhizomatous irises (probably Northern Blue Flags) last year. Both had a great season, but my bearded irises did poorly; probably because the crepe myrtles deprive them of the sun they need. I hope you enjoy my piece on iris classification. What a fascinating genus of plants! But no worries! We are fortunate to have a number of rose enthusiasts in the membership. According to the Texas Cooperative Extension “Roses grown on their own root system are hardier and require less care than grafted roses. Old Garden Roses (antique roses), Earth Kind™ Roses, Dr. Griffith Buck Roses, and David Austin® Roses are rapidly increasing in popularity because of their long life span and natural disease resistance. Many are very fragrant, provide an abundance of blooms and come in a large variety of sizes, shapes and colors. These qualities make them adaptable to a variety of landscape situations.” I never promised you a rose garden. Deb Tallman sent a photo of her “basic shrub roses” which look anything but basic. Deb first worked composted manure into a lagoon in the middle of her rear garden with 8+ hours of summer sunlight. She later continued to condition what had been typical “tobacco farm” soil, by allowing successive years of mulch to break down. Adding seaweed-based fertilizer to her new plantings has been highly successful as you can see in the photo showing the roses accompanied by Midnight Marvel hibiscus and artemesia. Her maintenance routine includes Bayer Rose Food and Osmocote. Well done, Deb! Since Hurricane Florence altered the salinity at Fairfield, Raye Lynn Fletcher keeps most of her shrub varieties and hybrid teas in containers. She swears by fish emulsion fertilizer, and things were off to a great start UNTIL a hail storm and a squirrel invasion. This was as much a surprise to me as it was to Raye Lynn, but almost every resource I consulted confirmed that squirrels do, indeed, love to eat rose blossoms (especially the new buds) and leaves. I found a few recipes for pepper spray to deter predation, and since hot pepper keeps MOST squirrels away from my birdseed, I bet it will work on roses. Raye Lynn has just added Graham Thomas to her garden. This deep yellow, honey scented David Austin rose can be trained as a climber. I know GT will thrive under Raye Lynn’s care! Margaret Raynor also grows shrub roses. She maintains three Griffith Buck selections (Queen Bee, Rural Rhythm, Paloma Blanca), three from David Austin (French Lace, Teasing Georgia, and Abraham Darby) and two Old Garden Roses (Mrs. B.R. Cant and Sir Thomas Lipton). Black spot and mildew are a challenge in our area, but has not been a big problem for Margaret this year. Here is a good general article for roses in our area https://lee.ces.ncsu.edu/2016/03/do-you-love-roses/ Running/walking in Trent Woods. Look for natives coreopsis, helianthus, rudbeckia and spiderwort which will bloom until frost. Watch out for Carolina Horsenettle. Pretty flowers, but like smilex, nasty thorns! Until next time…
Horticulture Corner-April 2022
By Maureen Loomer
“It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, April comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.” ―Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), American poet
White-throated sparrows have replaced the dark-eyed juncos in my yard, and my bluebird box is occupied. The lone hummingbird I saw at my mother’s house was likely a male scouting out the territory. Ruby-throated is the only species that nests in our area and the females should be following the males into the area in the next two weeks. Fellow bird lover and former TWGC member Cindy Robinson alerted me to a great website
Running/walking in Trent Woods: The Ag Extension and Forestry Services will start offering a bounty on Bradford Pear trees this month https://forestry.ces.ncsu.edu/2022/03/nc-bradford-pear-bounty/?src=rss. Paula Hartman reports that her hellebore (Lenten rose), gifted by her cousin in Chapel Hill, has never bloomed so beautifully. These winter-spring bloomers thrive in sheltered partially-shaded areas. Our winter had the not-too-cold-or-wet conditions they love.
Carolina Jessamine is another evergreen that produces yellow trumpet-shaped blooms in our area from late winter until April. You may see this vine supported on fences or mailboxes.
What’s “up” in Dr. Mo’s garden? Thespirea I pruned by 1/3 last fall has leafed out nicely. I hope for a great bloom in the next two months. All things herbal are going gang-busters, especially in the shed, walled, and milkweed gardens where the plants are somewhat sheltered. The white sage is evergreen, and the bronze fennel never died back once the swallowtails were gone. Mints and ornamental onions are all up, and the garlic chives will need harvesting this week to keep them blooming. Although the fern leaf lavender did not survive, my favorite lavender, Anouk, is in full bloom. More stems popped out of what I feared was frost-burn, and I will have to move the Mexican mint marigold that has shared Anouk’s raised bed since I transplanted them last year. The common rue is also in full bloom and already hosting lots of bumblebees.
Work to do! The last week has primarily been devoted to prepping the beds and containers for the soil amendments and mulch I have stored up. Although April 3 is considered the last frost date for us, I will wait a week or so to transplant some Stoke’s asters to the woodland garden from the patio containers they have outgrown. If the mild conditions continue for the next week or two, I will give Anouk a haircut of not more than six inches. Anouk is about seven years old and not woody enough for me to chance anything more drastic. I will do the same for the common rue. I have compost to mix into the beds and new potting soil for the containers, so plenty to keep me busy.
It’s Tick Season! There are ticks where there are deer, mice, birds, or other vertebrates. They prefer dark, moist, warm areas, and I have already encountered them while trimming back ornamental grasses in the woodland garden. To avoid harming pollinators, I treat my skin and clothing with REPEL products which I have found effective even during EarthWatch field research in Maine. I will try some of the new environmentally-friendly yard sprays and report my findings. The CDC https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/on_people.html and Prevention magazine https://www.prevention.com/health/a22095155/best-tick-repellents/ have good info on this topic.
Member questions: Sue Wyatt asked at the March 10 meeting for help identifying an evergreen shrub in her yard with lavender blooms. The PictureThis! app she used identified it as Buddleia lindleyana, but Sue says she has been told it is NOT a butterfly bush. The tiny tubular blooms appear to be on arching pannicles. I am familiar with buddleia as a deciduous shrub with narrow leaves and summer blooms that dissolve into LOTS of seeds by fall. Plant Delights says that B. lindleyana is the much lesser-known Weeping Butterfly Bush and is very different from the B. davidii Butterfly Bush that we have seen for many years. However, they emphasize that this species is dormant in the winter and should not bloom so early. Wendy from Pinecone Garden Center agreed. Of course, the plant may not have read the literature. I will continue to research this question.
Garden centers etc.: Pinecone has some hellebores left, and the centers are full of spring plants. I found Rattlesnake Masterto add to my pollinator collection when I met native plant grower Karen Mulcahey (Facebook@AbovetheBriary) at the Home and Garden Show.
Until next time…
Horticulture Corner-March 2022 By Maureen Loomer “Springtime is the land awakening. The March winds are the morning yawn.” ― attr. Lewis Grizzard (1946 – 1994), American writer and humorist Yellow, to me, is the color of March. When the forsythia, dandelions and daffodils proliferate in my garden, I know I will see goldfinches too. Between them, the pine warblers, and the myrtle warblers (aka“butterbutts”), there is a lot of yellow in my garden. Time to put up the nyjer thistle feeder. Dandelion Love: As all of you know by now, I prioritize wildlife in my garden over an attractive lawn. I leave the dandelions in my lawn since they promote soil health, provide pollen and nectar to many beneficial insects, and their seeds feed several bird species https://www.mofga.org/resources/weeds/ten-things-you-might-not-know-about-dandelions/#:~:text=Dandelions%20are%20good%20for%20your,them%20available%20to%20other%20plants. I dig them out of beds where they compete with other plants, but I avoid using herbicide on them as these chemicals are harmful to insects and birds. If you MUST use herbicide, please don’t spray it on the blooms. Running and walking in Trent Woods: We are at the time of year when wildlife fodder is low in abundance. I found signs of deer predation on pyracanthas and privets. Judy Boyd reported that deer ate her irises, so we know the animals are stressed. As tender growth emerges, the best way to prevent deer predation is high fencing or chemical deterrent like Liquid Fence. Okame cherries and deciduous magnolias are reaching their peak bloom. I was excited to find the cherry blossoms at my mother’s and sister’s house covered with honey bees last week when the daytime temperature rose to 85 F degrees. Our new members from Up North will have learned by now that of our native magnolias, only Magnolia grandiflora is evergreen. Grandiflora’s leaves and blossoms are traditionally used in Christmas decoration here, but the much smaller Star and Saucer Magnolias are welcome early spring bloomers that you might want to consider for your garden https://union.ces.ncsu.edu/2017/02/deciduous-magnolias/ Member questions: I hope everyone enjoyed Master Gardener Laura Knox’s presentation on camellias as much as I did! I did, however, see a few puzzled looks when Laura mentioned “Crepe Murder”. If you have seen crepe myrtle trees that look like they have been butchered by a chainsaw manic, you have seen evidence of “crepe murder”. NC Ag Extension shows the right way to prune these trees https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2he8_mo1oWc . Southerners apply the term to many over-zealous (and potentially harmful) attempts at pruning. A few members asked me about frost damage to their perennial shrubs. As tempting as it is to start cutting away what looks “dead” right now, such grooming should wait for a while. It may take another few weeks to properly assess any damage from frost so just be patient. You may be surprised at how well they will recover. Save the bees! Please do not let your gardening zeal threaten our pollinators. Many chemicals used to combat pest species actually harm beneficial ones. Sevin, for example, is very harmful to pollinators https://ag.umass.edu/fruit/ne-small-fruit-management-guide/appendices-resource-material-listings-conversion-tables-0 Local garden centers: Lenten roses (hellebores), cold-hardy veg and bedding plants (including lilies and dianthus) are at Lowe’s. They also still have tulips, dandelions, and hyacinths in pots. Pinecone has shrubs including some beautiful Southern Yews that might make a stunning specimen or tall hedge/screen plant. They also still had pansies, violas, and camellias. Hedging bets: Rhona Beadle is looking for a unicorn. Okay, she REALLY wants to replace a hedge of hollies with evergreen shrubs that will produce blooms in winter and can be kept about 3 feet high. Some of you may recall that I presented Winter Daphne in January of 2020. Neither Winter Daphne nor the Compact Viburnum I presented at the February 2022 meeting would suit this purpose since their natural habits are too tall. I took this question to Wendy at Pinecone. She suggested dwarf camellias and told me she has had great success with ‘Dwarf Shishi’ which I found at Camellia Forest in Chapel Hill https://camforest.com/products/c-dwashi . My own suggestions for a colorful winter hedge included falsecypress (lime green/gold and an easy keeper) or dwarf nandina “firepower” (well-behaved, gorgeous color). Don’t be a stranger! I love to help with researching horticulture questions, and I am still looking for folks to interview for “Meet the Gardener”. Please email me at email@example.com if I can help. Until next time…
Horticulture Corner-February 2022 By Maureen Loomer “Gay lucidity, Not yet sunshine, in the air; Tingling secrets hidden everywhere…” — Michael Field, in ‘February’ (1913) My garden is replete with moles, voles, and weeds. I wax philosophical on this. The moles will eat the grubs, and the grubs and voles will eat the weed roots. The surviving weeds will provide early food for small pollinators and other insects that feed dragonflies, robins, and bluebirds. So it’s all good. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The parade of the seed catalogs has begun, so NOW is the time to plan for spring and summer planting. The TWGC herb sale and the Tryon Palace heritage plant sale are great resources. We should start seeing vegetable and decorative plants from local growers at the New Bern Farmer’s Market by late March or early April. Buying local may be more convenient and less expensive than buying from mail-order houses. My favorite mail-order suppliers are Bluestone Perennials (bluestoneperennials.com) and Plant Delights Nursery (plantdelights.com), and Prairie Nursery (prairienursery.com). These suppliers offer guarantees on their plants, and species I cannot find locally. Their websites also offer information and advice. Plant Delights Nursery is located in Raleigh, and owners Tony and (the late) Michelle Avent also established Juniper Level Botanical Garden. JLBG is again open for visitors! https://www.jlbg.org/content/visit/gardenDays.php Ann Simpson mentioned this destination to me at the January meeting. Road trip, anyone? Local Garden Centers: Our coastal communities missed most of the snow and ice that hit the piedmont and mountains, but three (going on four!) storms have made this winter as chilly as I recall. Of course, those of you from up north would call this a heatwave. Pinecone has moved most of their stock back to the farm, and Lowe’s has been holding deliveries of tender stock. Pinecone’s inside shop is full of orchids and a few other indoor plants. Lowe’s has seeds and bulbs for spring planting. The dahlia tubers I bought will wait in my shed until I can plant them in a few weeks. Lowe’s also has daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips growing in small containers. I will buy some tulips for my elevated front porch but cannot have them anywhere else because of the deer. Here is a list of “deer-resistant” bulbs ( https://www.thespruce.com/deer-resistant-bulbs-2131830). Lenten Roses (Helleborus orientalis): I have not seen hellebores in our local garden centers yet, but these are a great addition to the garden when year-round color is a priority. Hellebores are best known for their very early blooming, nodding cup-shaped flowers. These semi-evergreen perennials herald the coming of spring in shades of white, yellow, pink, maroon and even soft green. The NC Ag Extension Service points out that this shade-loving plant is easy to grow and deer-resistant ( https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/helleborus-orientalis/ ) but is also mildly toxic to humans and pets. Some beautiful varieties! https://www.bluestoneperennials.com/genus/helleborus.html#:~:text=Lenten%20Rose%20are%20best%20known,maroon%20and%20even%20soft%20green. Until next time… by Maureen Loomer
Horticulture Corner-January 2022 By Maureen Loomer “And Winter slumbering in the open air, wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring …” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge Garden chores: I join Southern Living’s “Grumpy Gardener” as a believer in raking up dead leaves from my lawn. I add the leaves to the berm between my back garden and the wetland behind. This mulching protects the berm, discourages briars, and provides shelter for insects, amphibians, and birds. My mother had me plant more narcissus, ranunculus, and hyacinths in her garden in late October. As I pointed out at the December meeting, our mild winters accommodate planting into January. Spring bulbs and rhizomes planted until the end of January will have time to set a root system before flowering after any planted in fall but before the hot weather starts. This might be a great strategy for extending the season for some of your spring favorites. The woody varieties in my herb garden (germander, thyme, rosemary, sage, oregano, and lavender) are evergreen, and both the rue and the bronze fennel are still green; sheltered by the shed garden. Those of you thinking ahead to the TWGC herb sale might want to consider that these (as well as bays, marjoram, and some mints) are winter hearty. They will retreat with a hard freeze but will come back (and even flower) during mild days. As always, please remember to plant with good drainage and appropriate sun exposure in mind. Evergreens are only one source of winter interest in the garden. I brought you some seed pods from one of my garden favorites this month. These can be left in the garden or harvested for arrangements indoors. Running and Walking in Trent Woods: Peer-reviewed studies find that the average American gains about 1.5 lbs during the holidays, and it is believed that failure to lose that weight year-to-year is a major contributor to cumulative weight gained through middle and old age. I hope you are enjoying the mild weather that allows us to enjoy the outdoors pretty much year-round. Please take advantage of our parks and sidewalks to indulge in some birdwatching, dog-walking, and other healthful activities. Garden Center Report: My visits to Lowe’s and Pinecone revealed that both had sold out of Christmas trees before mid-month. Pinecone had a large selection of annuals and perennials for planting now. I purchased calendulas and snapdragons to brighten up the patio garden and pansies for the front porch. I was pleased to find both honeybees and sulfur butterflies nectaring on them on some of our warm days. Of course, I reluctantly purchased poinsettias to join my old Christmas cacti. As much as I enjoy their brief gaudy show, it is always sad to have to mulch them in January. My Christmas cacti, at least, survive happily in the sunroom. Would you like to be interviewed for Meet the Gardener? I am looking for volunteers! Interviews can be conducted by telephone or face-to-face at the volunteer’s convenience. If interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next month…
Horticulture Corner-November/December 2021 By Maureen Loomer “Through autumn’s golden gown we used to kick our way. You always loved this time of year.” —Justin Hayward (“Forever Autumn”) Running and Walking in Trent Woods: Wild grapes and cat claw vine compete with maples, oak, and other trees for a great color show. I have seen some of the prettiest colors in both pistache tree and crape myrtle. The American beautyberries are fast losing their fruit to mockingbirds and bluebirds, and if you get out early enough, you will hear barred owls and red shoulder hawks. Still Blooming on November 20: Despite a little scattered frost, my skyscraper salvia and guara are still blooming. I have also been pleased to find bees and butterflies nectaring on the pineapple sage, Mexican mint marigold, and fern leaf lavender. I have let the basil go to seed and will make one last harvest before Thanksgiving. Garden chores: After three days of digging and chopping, I managed to remove about ¾ of the Siberian irises in my so-called cutting garden. Since the space’s soil turned out to be only about ten inches deep, I will need to find another place to put the guara and the salvia. I will let you know what I decide to do. MEET THE GARDENER: Deborah Tallman GARDENING HISTORY: Despite deep family roots and love for blue water sailing, Superstorm Sandy convinced the Tallman’s that New Jersey was not the place for their retirement. The new build they found in Havelock’s Matthew’s Marina community filled the couple’s location and space requirements and now presents Deb with benefits and challenges since her husband’s passing. Deb and several of her neighbors joined TWGC after Havelock’s garden club disbanded. Deb’s talent has since blessed TWGC through her stellar work creating the club’s website and newsletter. GARDENING IDENTITY/INSPIRATION: I identify Deb as an Eclectic Collector Gardener. Her career as an international business consultant with a degree from the University of Delaware developed tastes in cuisine, art, and history shared with her husband. Just as the house blends curated art and collectibles, the front and back gardens reflect an eye for the unique, and Deb will buy a plant because it appeals to her and worry about where to put it later. Still, she successfully combines specimen plants (many from heritage plant sales) and yard art with garden-center landscape plants to generate a harmonious front/side garden. GARDEN CHALLENGES AND PROJECTS: The property’s soil is the typical clay and sand found in tobacco country, and the only shade comes from the house itself. Deb has compartmentalized the back garden with a central specimen rose bed and galvanized steel planters against the house for culinary herbs. Deb is currently working on a white garden bed placed along her recently-installed wrought iron fencing. The effect of all white plants against the black fence will be striking, and Deb is developing a plan for plants with compatible soil needs and tolerance for the full-sun exposure. Also in the planning stage is an apple tree espalier possibly using a Braeburn cultivar. GARDENING ACHIEVEMENTS/ DISAPPOINTMENTS: Deb started with a blank slate and has patiently experimented with what will and will not work in her gardens. Her future ambitions include finding a lavender that will thrive somewhere in her garden. Until next month… .
Maureen Loomer treated us to a “who is it” lesson. Examining the specimen as where it was growing and aspects of the different parts of the plant is was deduced to be a Swamp Sunflower.
Horticulture Corner-October By Maureen Loomer “There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.” —Nathaniel Hawthorne Monarchs on the Move: I have not seen monarchs for the last 2-3 weeks even though I still have some Asclepias tuberosa growing in my milkweed garden. I would be interested in knowing how many of our membership have seen monarchs this year, especially if you grow milkweed for the larvae. Typically, we are on the extreme eastern side of their journey south, but these can be disrupted by storm activity. A recent visit to the Pollinator Garden at Rassie-Wicker Park in Pinehurst revealed milkweed beetle activity on the common milkweed’s seed pods. I rescued several pods and have collected the seeds which I will give to Wendy at Pinecone Garden Center for culturing. Wouldn’t it be nice to have this milkweed variety (known for its pink blooms and rose-vanilla scent) next summer? Garden chores: Autumn is the time for dividing irises and putting in perennials. Hardy perennials can be put in the ground through the next several weeks. Folks new to our area should know that the Eastern NC growing season typically lasts well into November as we seldom get frost before the middle of the month. Last year our growing season officially ended November 18. I am in the process of re-planting my (so-called) cutting garden. The Siberian irises have resisted division and taken over the plot, so I am taking most of them out. I will transplant some to the sunny parts of the woodland garden. I will replace them in the cutting garden with my surviving guara, Sweet William, and lanceleaf coreopsis. A new addition to this cutting garden (which I never cut) is Society garlic. I have frequently mentioned my love for ornamental onions because they are hardy, produce graceful blooms, and are some of the few plants the deer NEVER bother. I have had good luck with all the alliums although my favorites are pink nodding onions. Society garlic is not an allium (belonging to the family amaryllidaceae) but has enough onion-garlic scent to discourage the deer. It also has a longer bloom time than my alliums. Requests from your Horticulture Chairman: My goal for this year is to increase member participation in the horticulture end of TWGC. Last month I floated my idea of recruiting members to volunteer for a face-to-face interview about their gardening experiences, which will be incorporated in this column in a “meet the gardener” segment. If you would be willing to be interviewed but want to be anonymous, I will be glad to omit your name from the segment. Also, I would appreciate having volunteers willing to EITHER donate a specimen for the monthly meeting OR suggest a plant for me to research that I can present at the monthly meeting for you OR present/request a horticulture question/problem. I will mention this at the meeting, and if you would like to volunteer or know more, please email me at email@example.com. Running and walking through Trent Woods Unlike the rarified environment enjoyed by plants bred for the indoors, outdoor plants must continuously contend with sometimes brutal environmental change. The foliage on outdoor trees and shrubs responds to the wide fluctuations in temperature/moisture as well as the normal solstice changes typical of our region. These stressors cause leaf-drop in some species and color change as carotenoid production replaces chlorophylls. Don’t confuse internet advice for indoor plants with what is normal to expect for outdoor plants. Most of the plants you see around Trent Woods are natives or introduced species that survive because their innate defenses enable them to cope with mild predation by bacteria, invertebrate animals, and fungi. The rare occasions when I have had a problem with fungi, I have simply pruned the affected plant severely. Powdery mildew has been mild this year in my saucer magnolias, and severe in my monarda. They are in the rear of my shed garden where it has stayed quite damp. Monarda at my mother’s house, in a southwest-facing cold frame, has done beautifully. I encourage everybody to use the sidewalks and the walking track at Cottle Park to promote fitness. The fall of leaves and pine straw can make the sidewalks slippery, so it is even more important to use proper footwear. Please be alert to children on bikes and scooters, especially just before and after school. Since I run as soon as the sun comes up, I have changed my 3.5 mile route to avoid children heading to Bangert Elementary on Chelsea Road and Country Club Road. Please avoid using telephones and other devices that distract you from your surroundings (especially someone coming from behind). Please encourage friends and family to SHARE the sidewalks safely. Until next month… October Horticulture Specimen Common Name: Society garlic, like my September selection, is not a NC native plant but one that you may like for your perennial garden. Genus/Species: Tulbaghia violacea Character: Delicate, sweetly fragrant flowers on deep green stems that smell of garlic when crushed. Various sources suggest it can bloom as early as late spring and may continue till frost. Origin: South African grasslands Size: Forms clustering mounds like ornamental onions, up to 20 inches tall. Lifespan: Perennial, like ornamentals can be grown from seed, but it is easier to divide existing clusters. Photographed in her garden by: Maureen Loomer Requirements: Full sun and well-drained soils.
Horticulture Corner-September By Maureen Loomer If any of you have ever lived down south of the Mason-Dixon line, you know that late September still means summer heat. – Scott Porter, actor Garden chores (later!): By August’s end I have made peace with a gentile shabbiness in my garden. The beds and shrubs are a little less groomed, the lawn just a bit over-grown, and the porches a little bit cluttered. I’m resting up for the chores to come-dividing irises, pruning back Spirea and lantana, harvesting the last of the peppers, basil, and other herbs. Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! To lawn or not to lawn: Last week’s Wall Street Journal ( https://www.wsj.com/articles/so-long-traditional-lawn-the-new-turf-trendsfrom-wildflowers-to-fescue-11630087268?mod=life_work_featured_strip_pos1 ) ran a piece on alternatives to traditional lawn turfs, a subject I have discussed before. Replacing lawn with woodland, meadow, or wildflowers has some ecological advantages (water and wildlife), but may present some challenges as well (neighborhood cohesion, pest species). You might find this article of interest https://www.lawnstarter.com/blog/north-carolina/raleigh-nc/5-hot-landscaping-trends-raleigh/ They ate Little Joe, and other creatures’ comforts: Happily, my autumn sedums are returning even after Bambi and Friends ate them down to the ground. Guara and echinacea are growing back, too. Once again, my efforts to grow Joe Pye Weed have been thwarted as those plants were pulled completely out of the ground and chewed up. I shed a tear for them when I see piles of deer “scat” on my runs. This has also been a banner year for the dragonflies and skinks that inhabit the swamp behind my property. Thanks to them, the mosquitos have not been too bad. Every bit of bronze fennel and some of the rue has been consumed by black swallowtail larvae. I expect it will grow back to nourish another brood before frost. Meanwhile the monarch larvae are feasting on the Asclepias, with a strong preference for the curassavica species this year. I grow tuberosa, syriaca, and incarnata, too. A request from your Horticulture Chairman: In the past several years, I have found talking one-to-one with members more effective in learning about their interests than asking for group participation. With this in mind, I would like to ask willing members to join me for brief individual interviews for publication in this column. The column segment would be titled “Meet the Gardener”. The format would consist of me asking what researchers call “open-ended questions” including What is your gardening history and what are you doing now? What is your idea of a perfect garden? What do you think influences how you approach gardening? What is your biggest gardening success/failure/challenge? What gardening goals could TWGC help you achieve? Participation in this kind of semi-structured interview lets the membership get to know the participant’s interests in a way that might not be possible through our current meetings and activities. I would like to interview one member at least every couple of months. I will be issuing invitations starting at the September meeting. Please consider participating! Running and walking through Trent Woods Our town sidewalks and parks are a blessing for residents seeking to enjoy some outdoor fitness and recreation away from our gardens. Although we have had a temperate summer for eastern North Carolina, do not forget to protect yourself from heat, sun, and seasonal pest insects. Since insect repellants usually negate sunscreen protection, I wear long sleeves and long pants treated with Repel (available at Tractor Supply) when working in my garden. Running in the summer is uncomfortable in long sleeves, so I use Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus SPF 28 (available on-line thru Walmart). Check out the naturalized areas around the sidewalks. You’ll find coreopsis, zinnias, and others. Be careful of ticks hiding in tall grass. Hope you like the photos! Speaking of sidewalks, please remind your neighbors to use and teach their children pedestrian courtesy. Keep single file to allow two-way traffic, pass slower walkers/runners on the left, and yield right of way to disabled pedestrians. Bicycles, scooters, and skateboards NEVER own the right of way over pedestrians. Be alert! The Watering Committee has had the usual challenge (heat, deer, and bugs) keeping the plantings going at Town Park, Cottle Park, and the Blue Star Memorial. Shout-out to my fellow committee members Sue Wyatt, Jack Durham, our fearless leader Marcia Sproul, and back-up member Amy White! September Horticulture Specimen While on a run, I was attracted to the fragrance of this beautiful plant pouring through a home fence. According to NCSU, it can be grown in containers as well as the ground. ( https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/hedychium-coronarium/). Genus/Species: Hedychium coronarium Common: Butterfly Ginger, Ginger Lily Character: Showy, fragrant flowers on deep green foliage. Blooms summer through fall. Origin: India, Eastern Himalayas to Java Size: Height: 4 ft. 0 in. – 6 ft. 0 in. Width: 2 ft. 0 in. – 3 ft. 0 in. Lifespan: Perennial, grows from bulb. Photographed Maureen Loomer in-situ by: Observed: Garden backing on Country Club Drive Requirements: Likes hot and humid summers and consistently moist, but well-drained soils. Grows best in zones 8-10. Light/Temp: Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day) or partial shade (direct sunlight only part of the day, 2-6 hours).
Horticulture Corner-May 2021 By Maureen Loomer Building a garden, getting the weeds; who could ask for more? – Paul McCartney and John Lennon, “When I’m Sixty-Four” I had no damage thanks to having heeded Tom Glasgow’s warning about frost in early April. It has been a glorious spring so far but the watering and weeding chores are now upon us. Our fearless leader, Marcia Sproul has rallied those of us on the watering committee who will be doing our best to keep the containers at Meadows and Cottle Parks going through the hot weather. Garden Centers: In addition to our local centers, Timmy’s on Hwy 70 just east of Goldsboro is open (they are seasonal) and carries selections you are unlikely to find elsewhere. I found a beautiful pink Evening Primrose. They also specialize in spectacular large container gardens. Maureen’s Garden: I have had to put out fire ant bait, one of the few pesticides I use. I also have moles, but they will be gone once they have eaten the grubs underground. Some folks feel the need to kill off the grubs, but I prefer to just let the natural predator-prey cycle operate. I also have seen a couple of eastern rat snakes around the patio. Their mating season is now through June and the females will seek dark hidden areas to lay their eggs. These snakes are non-venomous and usually very shy, but the males can be aggressive this time of year. Occasionally they will stake out bird feeders. I leave them alone, but avoid having piled up brush or rubbish around and make sure none are hiding in the shrubs near the feeders (using a rake to poke under my shrubs works well). Upcoming Projects: Anouk has, sadly, outgrown her container. This lavender has performed beautifully and is covered with blooms (and bees) right now. I have no choice but to plant her in the ground but with no room in the walled herb garden I have decided to build a raised bed behind the milkweed garden where I will also transplant some of my rue and salvias. I’ll let you know how it turns out. I bet you all are getting tired of hearing about my gardening ups and downs so how about sharing about yours? Some of us are interested in culinary gardening, and some of us garden for fragrance or color. Gail McLamb has asked me to continue as horticulture chairman in the coming year and I hope to take this column in a different direction by addressing YOUR interests and challenges. I will be doing a survey to solicit ideas with questions successes, failures, and projects our members are experiencing. Whatever it is, tell “Dr. Mo” all about it! Until next time… There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments (Janet Kilburn Phillips, English Cottage Gardening — American Style):
Horticulture Corner-April 2021 By Maureen Loomer Every limpid brook is singing of the lure of April days; every piney glen is ringing with the maddest roundelays. – Lucy Maud Montgomery, “Spring Song” (nd) The goldfinches and house finches are back with a vengeance, joining my resident bluebirds, chickadees, and titmice. Keeping the feeders supplied is a challenge. Last week (March 24), I saw a horticulturist and a volunteer from Tryon Palace putting in annuals at the ticket office entrance. Tom Glasgow from the NC Ag Extension pointed out that the NWS expects a few more freezing nights, so be vigilant if you have anything tender coming up in unprotected areas. Garden Centers: Pinecone, New Bern Garden, and Lowe’s have been getting lots of perennials and annuals. They even had geraniums. I hope that later I will find some coreopsis to replace what didn’t survive when I divided my blue flag irises. Tomatoes are in, including heritage Cherokee Black at Pinecone. Everyone had landscape shrubs and small trees. Magnolia Primer For New Residents: Speaking of trees, magnolia trees are ubiquitous in the south, and you will find many kinds in New Bern. Here is a great resource from Southern Living that I hope will demystify the different species for our newer members coming from other states. https://www.southernliving.com/garden/trees/magnolia-flower-types Maureen’s Garden: The echinaceas, monardas, and guaras are sprouting, and spirea is leafing out quickly. If you need to feed, now is the time. I will discuss the details of how I handle feeding in my garden in a separate column in this month’s newsletter. This column is intended to entertain and inform but not to dictate. My garden reflects my interests in wildlife and probably wouldn’t appeal to someone who wants blooming plants year-round or needs a more manicured appearance. I had the pleasure of representing TWGC in February when I was invited to speak to the Coastal Women’s Forum on Garden Planning. One of the questions posed at the end of my presentation was from a lady who noted my rear garden’s emphasis on southeastern native perennials. She asked if I was satisfied that much of my garden overwinters in a rather dreary state. This great question brought me back to my opening statement; each gardener needs to evaluate his/her needs and desires and then research and plan accordingly. Praise for evergreens, INCLUDING “meatballs”: That said, allow me to point out that native evergreen perennials ARE represented in my garden, including my beloved heucheras (coral bells). I have nine varieties in containers on my patio garden’s “step-wall.” Year-round color, pollinator-attracting, and no dead-heading. What’s not to love? Other evergreen plants I suggest include native azalea, rhododendron, mountain laurel, and hollies. The US Fish and Wildlife Service ( https://www.fws.gov/ ) has some great horticulture information specific to our area, and suggestions for landscaping https://www.fws.gov/raleigh/pdfs/NativePlantsCoastalNC.pdf I have cultivated the native carex (sedges) and juncas (rushes) that entered my woodland garden from the rear wetlands area. These are evergreen, deer and rabbit resistant, and important to wetland ecology. They are gradually replacing much of the area left when Hurricane Florence took down most of my red maples. Some authorities would call these species “invasive,” but that term can be relative and is usually applied to plants that out-compete others felt to be more desirable in some way. These plants co-exist nicely with the Stoke’s asters, mountain mints, rosemarys, and a few other natives I planted between the rocks in the woodland garden. Photos will come later (when things have dried out a bit). One native genus that I take steps to contain is smilex (thorny vines). The cat briar that erupts in my line of variegated Chinese privets does not harm the trees (and is favored for nesting by some birds), but since it makes pruning the privets difficult, I try to keep them cut down as much as I can. You can buy concentrated glyphosate spray to kill them, but it has to be used early in the season while the vines are still tender. I prefer to cut them. Like many of you, I maintain ornamental evergreens like boxwood in my front garden because they harmonize with neighboring yards. They also provide food and shelter for birds and insects. A few weeks ago, I watched a female towhee snuggle down between two boxwoods trimmed into the round “meatball” shape I have heard some folks complain about. It pleased me greatly to see her and her mate protected from the icy wind as they scratched in the mulch for insects. Those boxwoods and the red bayberry shrubs will soon attract the tiny insects that provide hummingbirds with protein. So, long live “meatballs”! Please email me with any suggestions for this column, as well as questions you would like me to research for you. Until next month…
Horticulture Corner-March 2021 By Maureen Loomer Spring is the time of plans and projects—Leo Tolstoy, “Anna Karenina”(1877) January and February 2021 were much cooler and wetter for eastern NC than in 2020, and we are grateful to have been spared the brutal storms suffered by much of the nation. Hopefully, the rain will let up long enough to let us get outside soon! Garden Chores: No doubt you have noticed that the days are getting longer. The photocycle triggers perennial plant growth cycles (temperature affects growth rate), so time is running out to prune back plants before new growth starts. This also a great time to start buying and putting down new mulch. I use pine straw in the front yard because it conforms to the neighborhood and makes a smooth transition to lawn. I use bark (Preen or Scott’s) in the shed and walled herb gardens because I think it looks better for longer and is easy to “refresh” over the year. Either good quality pine straw or bark will do a fine job of retarding weeds and (more importantly) regulating the soil temperature. I find it easier to weed bark areas, but that’s just me. If you have bulbs in the ground, they will look so much grander when they bloom surrounded by fresh mulch, too! Examine your containers. We had enough freezing with heavy rain that some may need replacing. Pinecone Garden Center has a large stock of high-end freeze-resistant ceramic containers as well as clay ones. Lowe’s has a selection in clay as well as cement. If you are thinking it’s time for raised beds, check out Gardener’s Supply which has great choice in size and materials ( https://www.gardeners.com/buy/planters-and-raised-beds/). One Woman’s Weeds: Are another one’s wildflowers. Dandelions seeds and foliage are eaten by chipping, field, house, song and white-throated sparrows, goldfinches, and indigo buntings. My yard guys scratch their heads, but I don’t let them use weed killers on my lawn because I like to leave the dandelions, vetch, and clover for the birds and pollinators. Please consider leaving at least part of your garden pesticide and herbicide-free. Unlike wild-type plants, ornamentals popular with landscapers are selectively bred or genetically modified for hardiness and appearance, so many of them produce little or no nectar or pollen. Some bee-friendly weeds are found here ( https://blog.gardeningknowhow.com/top-of-the-crop/7-bee-friendly-weeds-you-should-keep/). Garden Center Report: Lowe’s is bursting with spring bulbs, as well as some of my favorite perennials. I was tempted by creeping phlox, but THRILLED to see autumn sedum! You may recall I suffered “sedum envy” last fall, so you can be sure I will scoop up some of this new cultivar, “Firecracker.” Pinecone still has pansies, violas, and vegetables. The big story here is their camellias, including new cultivars that have huge flowers. Wendy showed me one that has blooms that look like peonies. Martha Spruill, I hope you get a chance to see them! New heuchera varieties, too. New Bern Farm and Garden and Pinecone both have a variety of salad green bowl-gardens and bedding vegetables. Until next month…
Horticulture Corner-February 2021 By Maureen Loomer He knows no winter, he who loves the soil, For, stormy days, when he is free from toil, He plans his summer crops, selects his seeds from bright-paged catalogues for garden needs. — Sudie Stuart Hager, He Knows No Winter I love cold weather, but I get a little sad looking at my garden where there is little to do except prune dead growth and clean up weeds. I love to plan what I want to plant each year but prefer to support local businesses and our Club herb sale. I am interested in many plants unavailable locally, but buying online means paying a lot for plants in #1 containers and high shipping costs. For instance, Pinecone had several cultivars of hellebore (Lenten rose) in quart containers at less than $20 each. Breck’s catalog has them on sale at three for $35.00 (3” containers), not including shipping. Starving for Winter Color: Evergreens provide food and shelter to our wildlife. As much as I love my North American native plants, they are a bit of a disappointment for winter interest in our USDA Hardiness Zone (8a per the most current map). That said, I really love huecheras and autumn ferns, which are my favorite shade-to-part-shade plants for containers. This time of year, I also appreciate the red color of the dwarf nandina “Firepower.” If (like me) you have been wary of nandina because it grows TOO well, this noninvasive cultivar may be just the ticket for a small space you want to liven up. This easy-keeper evergreen tolerates considerable shade and its toxic leaves and berries are ignored by deer and rabbits. It tolerates some pretty wet soil. Check it out at https://www.thespruce.com/growing-firepower-nandina-5094222# Kitchen Gardening: The SARS pandemic has alerted many folks to the obesity pandemic and aroused interest in home-cooking more healthful meals. Many home gardeners who are spending even more time at home want to devote some space and energy to culinary gardening. If you are lucky enough to have a space conducive to kitchen gardening, you are to be envied! The Old Farmer’s Almanac uses the lunar cycle and average frost dates to calculate the best time to start seeds indoors, transplant young plants outside, and direct seed into the ground ( https://www.almanac.com/gardening/planting-calendar/zipcode/28562). My insurmountable obstacles are poor drainage and beaucoup wildlife. My walled herb garden is essentially a raised bed, which helps with the drainage problem at the back of the yard but I still rely on containers close to the house to help discourage the deer. Keeping in mind that Liquid Fence is just another condiment to a hungry animal, most veg is simply not realistic in my yard. If you have a fenced yard and poor drainage, consider containers for your kitchen garden. The Farmer’s almanac has some of my favorite articles for veg cultivation in containers ( https://www.almanac.com/topics/gardening/container-gardening). Garden Centers: Lowe’s had pansies and some ornamental cabbages when I visited Feb 2. And … petunias ????? They also have rosemary and some lavenders and rhododendrons. The nicest things I saw were some very pretty bedding dianthus. These are great for almost anywhere they get full sun. I have some at the cutting garden border (east-southeast exposure), where they have bloomed continuously since September. It is wonderful to have some pink and white in the garden on a sunny winter day. Pinecone had much more stock, including ornamental cabbages and kales with bright colors. The cold temps have made this year’s colors especially bright (cold weather increases carotenoid production). Signs of Spring? Bulbs are shooting up all over the garden. I checked the “Lazarus pile” and found two containers of bulbs that are 6-8” high. I have had goldfinches earlier and in greater numbers than usual for my yard. My sister hopes this portends an early spring. Shall we believe them or the groundhog?
Horticulture Corner-January 2021 By Maureen Loomer There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter. One is the January thaw. The other is the seed catalogues. – Hal Borland; American author. (May 1900-February 1978) Seed AND bulb catalogs. Yum! More on that next month. Weather Guess-timates: “NOAA’s winter forecast [for 2020-21] favors warmer, drier conditions across the southern tier of the U.S., and cooler, wetter conditions in the North” (noaa.gov media release). The Farmer’s Almanac likewise forecast is slightly higher than average temperatures and lower than average precipitation for our area (almanac.com). Uh-huh. Garden Centers: New Bern Farm and Garden Center had close-out prices on holiday plants and some other gift items. They have fruit and vegetable seeds on sale now. They report that increased demand may make for shortages in the spring. My visit to Lowe’s found their garden center mostly empty as they appear to be closing out evergreens. I didn’t go inside, but Lowe’s usually starts to get seeds and bulbs in January. Pinecone has lots of pansies, dianthus, snapdragons, autumn ferns, and a few heucheras. Wallflowers (Erysimum Better Homes and Garden calls wallflowers “better than pansies.” According to the N.C. Extension, they are grown as a cool-season annual in the South but can be short-lived perennial or biennial. The hybrids come in many colors and were bred for longer bloom times. Plant in average to sandy soil in full sun. It is drought tolerant once established and deer resistant. The Extension recommends them for rock gardens, the front of the border, walkways, or containers. sp.): I picked up a couple of these in red and yellow at Pinecone last month, and they have done well in containers on my front porch (southern exposure). On my visit to Pinecone, I found more and was pleasantly surprised to find them hosting half a dozen nectaring honeybees! I am mixing them with snapdragons and dusty miller. If they do well, I will move them to the patio garden. When ambient temperatures get into the mid-sixties, it may be warm enough for pollinators to become active. Overwintering butterflies like the Cloudless Sulphur ( Phoebis sennae) may also be found looking for nectar on warm days. Maureen’s Garden: The white sage, rosemary, and rhue are still green in the walled and shed herb gardens. I will cut pink muhly grass down when (IF!) it gets dry enough to get into the back of my yard. The heucheras are doing fine next to the sunroom. I will fertilize them, like the muhly grass, in the spring. The woodland garden is mostly underwater. Sigh. This weekend I experienced my usual relief upon mulching this year’s poinsettias. As usual, they drooped and dropped leaves despite attention to water, light, and temperature. It doesn’t feel like the holidays without them, but they are like fussy house guests. No matter how carefully I tend to their needs, I always feel like I never quite live up to their expectations. Until next month…
Horticulture Corner-December 2020
By Maureen Loomer
A chorus of sparrows in summer is how I remember you. The fire of maples in autumn is how I remember you. The silence of snowfall in winter is how I remember you.
–Michael Franks on “Dragonfly Summer” (1993 album).
Runs in the autumn weather are my payoff for faithful running in summer’s heat and humidity. Trent Woods is a beautiful town and I want to “shout out” to the professionals who are bringing us sidewalks that make our outdoor time even better. They are friendly, courteous, and ever-vigilant for safety.
Sedum Envy: As a native Californian, I am embarrassed to say I am not a huge fan of succulents, but I make an exception for the sedums. Both native and naturalized species of autumn sedum (aka stonecrop) are tough, colorful features of the North Carolina perennial garden ( https://extensiongardener.ces.ncsu.edu/extgardener-remarkable-and-versatile-sedums/). I have kept the upright cultivar “Autumn Fire” for four years in my container garden. I also have several creeping cultivars that are less showy but keep weeds down and are great “fillers”. My mother, whose yard is blessed with better drainage than mine has an upright in the ground. Flower heads form early in summer but the real show is from October through frost. You can cut them down after frost or just leave the flower heads for winter interest.
Please enjoy the photo I took at the entrance to Canterbury Park where an upright sedum (maybe “Autumn Joy”?) is planted with sedges and iris. The raised bed keeps the soil well-drained. Good drainage and mostly-sun to full sun are all these hardy plants require. Mine did not do well this year, but I bought some more Autumn Fire at Pinecone.
Fine Gardening has a nice article on using the creeping varieties. I hope sedum envy is a lesser sin!
Garden Centers: I visited Pinecone and Lowe’s before Thanksgiving and found both in transition to Christmas Trees, cabbages, and kales. I snagged a rosemary from the bargain table at Lowe’s and some wallflowers at Pinecone. I’ll see what I can do with them. While at Pinecone I also grabbed a pineapple sage (full of blooms!), fern leaf lavender, and more bronze fennel.
Maureen’s Garden: The walled herb garden has endured two frosts now but only the basils have returned to their fathers. Rues, oreganos, and lavenders all still look good, and anise hyssop is blooming. I moved the pots of heucheras (coral bells) up close to the sun room. They are evergreen in a mild winter and I love their color. I have moved a few hardy herbs to the sunroom and will take photos next for next month.
Since it is December, I am concluding with a photo of a Christmas Cactus in my sunroom. Happy holidays to all! Please send any questions you would like me to research!
Until next month….
Horticulture Corner-November 2020 By Maureen Loomer How beautifully leaves grow old! How full of light and color are their last days! – attrib. to John Burroughs, American author (1837-1921) Unmistakable signs of autumn. The annual appearance of Baltimore Orioles at my feeders. Monarch butterflies at different stages of their journeys nectaring on my lantana and zinnias; some faded and tattered while others are fresh and vigorous. A mated pair of red shoulder hawks watching casually as I ran past Meadows Park. I wonder if the barred owls I heard last night know there was a “blue moon.” Mars visible in the southern sky and the Orionid meteor shower. One sign of autumn I will be GLAD to be rid of is political ads. Maureen’s Garden Report: The pineapple sage ( Salvia elegans) in the walled herb garden is turning green/gold and orange but has not bloomed. Planted three years ago, the plant has grown from a pint to about 4’x 4′. It is putting all its energy into growing branches and foliage and none into producing flowers. This is a little disappointing since this is part of my pollinator garden, but the leaves’ scent is lovely. This plant is perennial in our area and a pretty easy keeper like all mint family members as long as it has decent drainage. It is useful for arrangements as well as for other uses https://florgeous.com/pineapple-sage/. This plant is very easily propagated from cuttings, and there are many cultivars available. You all know how much I love an American native plant, so enjoy this one! https://wimastergardener.org/article/pineapple-sage-salvia-elegans/ I love my yard service. The “boys” do a great job keeping my grass cut and beds mulched, although I prefer to groom my own shrubs. When there is a storm, they always come by to see if I need any help. That said, they DID pull out my dahlias last fall when they put down new pine straw (sob!). It was my fault since I should have cut the stems down to the ground when they died back. With the mild weather here in Zone 8a https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/ dahlias can overwinter in mulched ground https://www.thespruce.com/charlottes-plant-zone-583693. This should be good news for those of you from colder climes who worry about lifting tubers. Speaking of colder climes, I promised Marcia Spruill that I would re-post information about growing peonies in our area. Some members have been frustrated with peonies that fail to bloom or to thrive. According to my research, it is critical to choose a strain/cultivar compatible with our mild winters. This site http://www.southernpeony.com/ is maintained by and for southern peony lovers. Our ag extension may also be helpful but do remember we are in Zone 8a https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/peonies-for-the-home-landscape. Or you could follow the advice of Southern Living‘s “Grumpy Gardener” who advises that if you want to grow peonies in the south, plan to dump ice cubes on them for a couple of months. Garden Centers: I picked up some snapdragons, autumn fern, and dianthus at Pinecone, as well as some bronze fennel, rue, and Mexican tarragon. I want to put a small container herb garden on my front porch, which has a full southern exposure. I will cover it if we get really cold weather and put the plants in the ground when spring comes. NWS says warmer and wetter for us this winter. We’ll see. Horticulture Questions: I was intrigued by the request from model railroader Chuck Moody who uses autumn sedum to make trees for his models. Mine was a bust this year (perennial doesn’t mean immortal), but I will plant more. I hope some of the membership could help Chuck out. Also, I am looking for members to help ME out by volunteering to present a specimen for one of our upcoming meetings. Until next month…
Horticulture Corner-October 2020 By Maureen Loomer And all at once, summer collapsed into fall. ― attributed to poet/playwright Oscar Wilde The tropical systems brought us a wonderfully temperate September and the National Weather Service seems to expect a mild October as well. Of course, this is subject to change without notice, but let’s be grateful for the pleasant temps. Maureen’s Garden Report: The swallowtail larvae have eaten up all my bronze fennel and parsley so I have done my bit for them! Things are starting to die back, but I scoured Pinecone and Lowe’s for a few “leftover” perennials to put in the ground and big containers now. As most of you know, fall is a great time to put in perennial shrubs and herbs. General wisdom is that they will do fine so long as you get them planted six-eight weeks before the ground freezes. Since we rarely even get frost before Thanksgiving, we have a wider window than our friends up north. I am putting in coneflowers (in the patio containers where the deer can’t get them), a few autumn sedums, and salvias. I will move the Virginia Mountain mint from the container I put it in last fall to the woodland garden. I divided my irises last fall and wish I had been a little more aggressive since they seem to have multiplied even more. I removed about a third of mine. It was the first time since I planted them seven years ago. If you are dividing yours this fall, I suggest taking out half if they are very dense (as mine were). Planning for spring bulbs as well. Do you have a ? Last fall, Marcia Sproul and I were taking up the purple fountain grasses from the pots at Meadows Park and talking about how sad it was to just throw them away. We found that we each have a corner of the garden where we put plants that were rejects from the garden center or that just didn’t do well over the growing season. I tossed two fountain grasses onto a soil pile behind my shed and darned if they are not doing well. They will go in the ground in full sun this weekend. An old heuchera that had gotten leggy last winter has also “come back to life” and will go into one of the patio pots. Lazarus Pile Garden Centers: Our local centers have made room for pansies and mums. I would like to remind those of you willing to drive 45-60 minutes that Timmy’s Roadside Garden is open again in Goldsboro. Check them out at https://www.facebook.com/TimmysRoadsideGarden/ This family owned business is my favorite place to find a wider selection of plants than you will find here in New Bern. They also have a large selection of seasonal garden decorations. Horticulture Questions: Sylvia and Larry Cotton asked me to identify this plant growing in a wild area near the end of River Lane off Batts Rd. It is a red swamp mallow (also called scarlet or crimson rosemallow. In Texas, they call it a Texas Star. This beautiful native is sometimes sold at the Heritage Plant Sale at Tryon Palace. Thanks, Larry for your beautiful photos! Deb Talman is ready to give up on lavender. As I have mentioned before, I am only successful with it in containers. It just cannot stand wet feet and containers are the only way I can give it the drainage it demands. I have kept the varieties “Anouk” and “Phenomenal” for several years this way, in the mostly sunny part of my walled herb garden. Hope this helps, Deb! Turkeys on the way to Vansboro where I board my mare Ginger and my mule Kate. Until next month…
Horticulture Corner-September 2020 By Maureen Loomer When the world wearies and society fails to satisfy, there is always the garden. – attrib. to artist Minnie Aumonier(1865-1962 ) In times like these it is helpful to remember that there have always been times like these —attrib. to radio broadcaster Paul Harvey (1918-2009) I hope this finds you and your families well. For the first newsletter of the year I thought I would catch you up on some new plants I started last September. Maureen’s Garden Report: The greatest success in the woodland garden I started after losing 3 towering red maples and a couple of black oaks to hurricanes was with rocks. The deer continued to eat all the gaura, asters, green and gold, crest irises, and coreopsis. Only the Stokes Asters came back. Those are all deer resistant plants. So were the Vermillionaire (cuphea, firecracker plant) and Echinacea (coneflower) in the shed and walled herb gardens but the deer ate them too. “Many commercial plant retailers advertise Gaura as deer-resistant or deer-proof, several studies say otherwise… a 1968 study by Chamrad and Box in The Journal of Range Management even classifying it as a “high priority” food for deer in South Texas. Go figure. Maybe I my deer are Texans? Hungry deer will eat almost anything and Deer Off is just another condiment. The good news is that they never touched the alliums, woody herbs, or the mints. A new mint in the woodland garden was Hoary Mountain Mint ( Pycnanthemum incanum). It grew very well in part shade and bloomed June through mid-August. It has a strong almost medicinal scent and the pollinators love the lavender flowers. The new Virginia Mountain Mint ( Pycnanthemum virginianum in the shed garden grew well but never bloomed. Both these mints grow upright and bushy. Neither of are culinary use but historically were used in native medicine. I will buy more of each if I can (Niche Garden where I purchased them is now closed). The ) Ruta (common rue, herb-of-grace) in the milkweed garden and has proved just as drought-tolerant as any herb I have ever grown. It looks so pretty with Agastache (hummingbird mint, hyssop). The white sage I planted last year looks to be another drought champion. Recall that it was evergreen in my walled herb garden. I highly recommend it. The American Beautyberry has grown by leaps and bounds and is covered with berries. I will have happy bluebirds and catbirds! The Carolina Allspice has struggled with the heat and I have had to be careful not to overwater. Speaking of which… Watering Notes: Those of us watering at Meadows and Cottle Parks and the Blue Star Memorial have had the usual extremes of drought or deluge. I watered hardly at all during my week in June, daily in July, and in August I deep watered thrice. Advised by Jack Dunham, I purchased a moisture meter last year. I have killed far more plants by overwatering than underwatering. If you have a high water table (low elevation or excessive rain) it can take a week or more for drainage to take place. Plants take up water to use in photosynthesis (using light energy to make glucose by CO2 fixation) and the amount they use depends on light, temperature, and humidity. Oversoaked soil prevents roots from getting the O2 they need to carry out respiration (generating energy by breaking down the glucose they made). Using a meter to check the soil around your plants’ roots will keep you from drowning them. I will start plant center reports next month. If you would like to share what is happening in YOUR garden, ask a question, or make a comment, please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next month…
Horticulture Corner-May 2020 By Maureen Loomer May and June. Soft syllables, gentle names for the two best months in the garden year: cool, misty mornings gently burned away with a warming spring sun, followed by breezy afternoons and chilly nights. The discussion of philosophy is over; it’s time for work to begin . – Peter Loewer April this year has been typical of most the 30 years I have lived in eastern North Carolina, and (at least at my house) there have been no killing freezes to damage petunias I put on the patio or the violas on the front porch. In the walled herb garden the mints, achillea, alliums, and thymes are doing well. The Joe Pye weed is slow, but coming along. The potted rosemary plants that were yellowing over the late winter responded nicely to a feeding with Peter’s Plant Food. In the milkweed garden, the rue is blooming and milkweeds shooting up. I needed to water the French/Spanish lavender ( lavandula stoechas) which is blooming prolifically. This will be the fifth year that I have had the variety “Anouk” in a large planter behind the walled herb garden. This lavender is evergreen in my herb garden which is protected by some tall background trees. Because it needs good drainage (rare in my yard), I must keep it in a container. I cut a few fresh stems to use as filler in an arrangement, but otherwise keep it just to please the pollinators. It will bloom well into June if I deadhead and keep any dead stems trimmed away. Monrovia ( https://growbeautifully.monrovia.com/when-to-prune-lavender/) advises gentle pruning in August. The new variety “Phenomenal” is growing slowly but appears to be doing well. It is in a container next to “Anouk”. The deer came through and ate ALL my guaras (wand flowers) in the woodland garden! All our local garden centers advertise them as deer resistant as do several online sources. Since these were left alone in the summer when I put them in, I thought they were okay, but did more research this month after the deer invasion. I found a source that indicates guara may actually attract at least SOME deer ( https://www.wildflower.org/expert/show.php?id=600). Oh well, live and learn. I do hope they grow back because as I sit on my bench under the maples, the blossoms nod in the summer breeze in such a soothing way. The deer trampled (but did not nibble) the nearby columbines, mountain mints, crested iris, or Stoke’s asters. They will be fine. One pair of bluebirds is raising a brood in the woodland garden nestbox, and another is nesting in the trees next door. They, and many of the other woodland species are emptying my feeders daily. I put out suet and seed treated with hot pepper to discourage the squirrels and raccoons. The American beautyberry and Carolina allspice I planted in the fall have come back and are leafing out. I hope for bountiful berries that the bluebirds will enjoy. I found a very nice site on planting for bluebirds and other native birds at http://www.sialis.org/plants.htm. The Stay-at-Home Order has all of us keeping close to home and, hopefully, reflecting on little pleasures to be found there—sometimes ones we may not have appreciated before. After the wonderful presentation from Hadley Cheris of Tryon Palace Gardens, I decided to really appreciate the flowering plants that nourish the pollinators closest to the ground in March and April. In this photo, you see that the woodland garden is enjoying a bounty of blue anemones, yellow oxalis, white clover, and even some fleabane. One woman’s weed is another woman’s wildflower! Until we meet again….
Horticulture Corner-April 2020 By Maureen Loomer “All through the long winter, I dream of my garden. On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.” – Helen Hayes As we enter the first week of the state-wide Stay at Home Order instituted in response to the Corvid-19 emergency, I extend my best hopes for your safety and security. If we must endure these measures, we can at least be grateful that temperate weather will allow us to get outside. I am enjoying the opportunity to run outdoors where I have been seeing other runners as well as walkers (many with pets or children) and cyclists. Many of us have also been hard at work in the garden. My chives and lavender are in full bloom and I have bee balm and mints coming in. The neighbor boys (one in high school, one in college) helped me get the walled garden and shed garden mulched in. Like supermarkets and hardware stores, the garden centers and the New Bern Farmer’s Market are all exempt from the mandate. Growers will continue to bring plants and produce into the Market and the garden centers are full of vegetables and ornamental plants. White’s has strawberries! Coming back from visiting my horse and mule, I bought some of their guaras (wandflowers) which I have had great success with in my woodland garden. If you happen to visit their farm on Hwy 17 in the next few weeks for plants or produce, they will have homemade ice cream. Check their Facebook page to find out when. The highlight of my visit to Lowe’s this week was a new columbine cultivar that I am putting in the woodland garden. The area I have chosen tends to drain adequately and features dappled shade, so hopefully I will have better luck with this cultivar than others I have tried. You will see that I have pictured it here with the blue-eyed grass ( Sisyrinchium) that I bought at Pinecone for the new rain garden. Blue-eyed grasses are related to irises and tolerate poor drainage. They promise to bloom through the spring and summer. I will plant them in full sun between the cement bowls I have sunk in the soil to provide water for birds and pollinators. The bowls are parts of birdbaths sold from Lowe’s in two pieces—I just bought four bowls without the stands. This year Pinecone has rue ( Ruta graveolens), an herb I have never tried. Butterfly Gardening’s website https://butterflygardening.wordpress.com/2013/09/23/rue-nectar-and-host-plant-together/ calls it a near perfect plant for the garden as it provides nectar AND is host plant for both Black and Giant Swallowtails. It is deer-resistant and its scent repels cats from your garden BUT be cautious as its oil causes a photosensitivity reaction. It needs full sun, so I will put it in the sunniest part of the shed garden with my alliums, oreganos, and sages. Until next month….
Horticulture Corner-March 2020 By Maureen Loomer Now when the primrose makes a splendid show, And lilies face the March-winds in full blow, And humbler growths as moved with one desire Put on, to welcome spring, their best attire… –William Wordsworth, “Poor Robin,” Garden center report: Flowering plants. Lowe’s had an abundance of potted bulbs in various degrees of maturity when I visited on March 2. If your daffodils got blasted by our recent snow storm or your hyacinths are already spent and you want blooms for Easter, you might want to drop by. I will be putting some in a container to decorate my front porch, then lift the bulbs to put in the ground for next spring. Lowe’s also had primroses and Carolina jessamine, both flowering very nicely. Those of you that attended the February meeting will recall that our speaker recommended Carolina jessamine as a good choice for extending the food supply for our pollinators. Pinecone had Lenten roses ( Helleborus sp.), an old-fashioned favorite that I have never tried. This relative to the buttercup is a herbaceous, woody-stemmed, evergreen perennial that deer avoid, so I think I may put some in the shady part of my woodland garden. The NC extension says they are easy to grow ( https://pitt.ces.ncsu.edu/2015/11/lenten-rose-for-winter-color/) New cultivars are much more colorful than the older varieties that are mostly white or green. This is the first time I have seen them at Pinecone and I am very tempted to give them a try. Pinecone also had the colorful “Origami” hybrid of columbine ( Aquilegia sp.), a deer-resistant buttercup-relative that is a North Carolina native. They will die back in the summer, but would be very nice in the spring cutting-garden. More information on these at ( https://www.monrovia.com/plant-catalog/plants/980/origami-mix-columbine/). Ground covers: It is time to start thinking about weed control, and putting down pre-emergents and new mulch. I only do this in a few of my beds since I like to encourage the flowering weeds that are important too so many of the non-colonial pollinating insects that were discussed by our speaker at the February meeting. For those of you who are interested in putting in ground covers that provide pollen, perhaps you would be interested in considering red creeping thyme which has done very well in both my walled herb garden and the sunny part of my woodland garden. I also like to grow it in my container garden. Another consideration might be mossy rockfoil ( Saxifraga sp.). On my visit, Lowe’s had a really pretty saxifrage cultivar “Alpino, early Picotee” that claims a bloom window of 10 weeks! This could be a good choice for mounding or spreading in dappled sun ( https://garden.org/plants/view/653686/Saxifraga-Alpino-Early-Picotee/). For those of you looking to replace part of your conventional lawn with a no-mow or low-mow option, there are some great choices including dwarf mondo grasses. I had never seen the “black” variety before, but after seeing it at Pinecone on today’s visit I decided to see what I could find out. This article in the Charlotte Observer might be of interest https://www.charlotteobserver.com/living/home-garden/nancy-brachey/article41693211.html Wendy at Pinecone wants you to know that she has vegetables now, and more coming in! Until next month….
Horticulture Corner-February By Maureen Loomer They say if there is a rosemary bush in the garden there is a strong woman in the house. —- Briscoe White, thegrowers-exchange.com At the January meeting, VP Ann reminded us that the club’s annual herb sale is fast-approaching and needs every member’s support. She brought a sprig of rosemary to help us all get into a herbal mindset, so I am doing my bit to continue the momentum Ann started. The pic here is from the large mulched bed in the most elevated portion of my back garden. From late spring through late fall, this area is dominated by a large old crape myrtle that keeps it shady. At the extreme edge is this rosemary “Arp” that I planted next about 10 years ago. As you can see, it is just coming into full bloom and looks brilliant next to the bright foliage of a dwarf nandina. As the Ag Extension https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/salvia-rosmarinus/ noted, it will bloom through early spring. Both plants thrive in the 6+hours of full sun made possible by the fact that the crape myrtle is bare in winter. “Arp” and “Hardy Hill” are cold-hardy upright cultivars most commonly planted in our area, along with “Prostratus” or creeping rosemary. Prostratus looks so pretty clambering over the rocks in my Woodland garden. I will prune back the woody stems on my older plants after they finish blooming to discourage legginess. This is one plant you can’t get the deer to prune for you! The rosemary plants elsewhere in the garden are doing well except for those planted in the walled herb garden where I think the heavy rain has caused some over-all yellowing. This area drains poorly. I checked the soil pH and found it to be in the acceptable slightly-acid range. If the yellowing continues after some dry weather I will give them a bit of food in case there is a nutrient problem. Since the ones in the containers look good, I really suspect it is the hydrology. If you have poor drainage then containers are the way to go with rosemary because, as with most herbs, soggy roots are deadly. A container planted with rosemary and companion plants with the same light/water/soil needs will give you much needed color in the winter, and can be easy-care all year long. Not to mention the lovely scent and culinary uses. Rosemary and olive oil: yum. Pass the bread, please. Elsewhere in the garden, my bulbs (narcissus and crocus) started shooting up in the last two weeks but perhaps may be slowed by the cooler temps rolling in this week (January 26). I even have some alliums coming up. I’m not worried, these plants are tough. Surprise, I have a pair of Baltimore Orioles that showed up in the last month! They are likely stragglers from southward migration that were attracted by my feeders and the fruit on my crape myrtles and holly plants, according to Journey North https://journeynorth.org/tm/oriole/News.html. I hope they stay for a while. I’ll keep the suet and mealworms coming! I haven’t gotten a photo yet, but will keep trying.
Horticulture Corner-January 2020 By Maureen Loomer Winter sunshine is a fairy wand touching everything with a strange magic. It is like the smile of a friend in time of sorrow. –Patience Strong, The Glory of the Garden (1951) Check your garden. As we proceed through Christmastide, a visitor to Trent Woods might wonder if winter comes here at all. I have enjoyed running outside in short sleeves as well as the chance to work up a good sweat as I have taken the opportunity to see to outdoor chores and examine the condition of my garden. This is the time to preempt problems as well as to plan ahead. While putting in perennials and bulbs, I noticed that the recent strong winds had pushed still more of the shallow-rooted oaks out of the saturated ground at the back boundary of my property. My “tree doctor” also pointed out that one of the three trunks on my river birch was dead and rotting out (thankfully, the other two are fine). Trimming and removing dying trees now will prevent them from damaging their neighbors as they fall, drop branches, or attract insect or microbial pests. Remember, though, that tree removal changes the characteristics of the surrounding area, including sun exposure and hydrology. Trimming away dead growth on large perennials will also provide space for those early spring bulbs to come up, just when we need them. The huge lantana bush in my front garden grows up to 7-8 feet across and 6 feet high by the end of July. I cut it down to the ground yesterday and planted yellow bulbs around it. The bulbs will be finished before the lantana has grown up enough to shade them. I love how the lantana attracts hummingbirds and pollinators summer into fall. Now is the time to love your evergreens. The rosemarys and mugo pines I put in the wilderness garden are looking great. I also have sedges and ferns in the wetter shaded areas. I gave the boxwood, holly, spirea, and barberry shrubs a good trimming in early November and will not touch them again until spring. Some folks look down on these plantings, but remember that birds and amphibians depend on them for food and shelter. In the walled herb garden, my white sage is growing like crazy, and so is a new pot of lavender called (appropriately!), Phenomenal. The garden centers are full of pansies, violas and snapdragons but there are also some wonderful foliage plants. My Sunday stop at Pinecone Garden Center provided me with an Aronda juniper which will go in the newly sun-exposed part of my wilderness garden. They also had several cultivars of heucheras (coral bells) which you all know are some of my favorites. I am including a pic of Wendy’s container arrangement (above) of heucheras, dwarf nandina, calex, and autumn fern (another of my favorites). These plants are considered evergreen in our region although they will die back if they get a heavy enough freeze or a frost. The huecheras on my patio steps stay bright and colorful if I move them back far enough under the roofline to protect them from direct frost. The autumn ferns I have in containers are under the pergola and have not even drooped. These plants are among the easiest to grow, but cannot take direct sun. Enjoy some bird watching. I have had an uptick in bird activity at my feeders with white-throated sparrows and dark-eyed juncos frequenting the ground beneath my feeders. I am feeding both pepper suet and pepper-treated sunflower kernels. There is plentiful wild food in some areas of Trent Woods this early in the winter, but with the loss of natural habitat, the supply is dwindling. These four bluebirds love both the suet and the seed as you can see from this pic shot through my sunroom window screen. Two more are on the other feeder. Last month I gave you the winter forecast from the National Weather Service and, as I promised at the meeting, here is the forecast from the Old Farmer’s Almanac https://www.almanac.com/old-farmers-almanac-2020-winter-forecas So, while NWS predicts the southeast to be colder than normal, Old Farmer’s predicts us to be wet but milder than normal. We’ll see who gets it right! I am looking for volunteers to present at our February and March meetings. If you are interested, or if you have ideas for this column, please shoot me an email. Until next month….