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Got Fire Ants?

Last summer and fall, the fire ants were in decline. Perhaps it was due to an unusually dry and hot summer, or maybe the release of a natural predatory wasp called a Phorrid Fly by the guys at UGA. Whatever the reason, I was happy to notice fewer fire ant mounds in the landscapes that I manage. Well, this spring, they’re baaaaaaaaack! A mild winter along with the recent rains have caused a near explosion of fire ant mounds. Frankly, many of the mounds can be minimized simply by mowing over them. That repeated mowing of the mounds is what I call ‘harassment’. It doesn’t kill the mound but the ants will either be subdued or will move the mound somewhere else.

Treat two times a year with a bait product.

A better treatment is to use a fire ant bait like Amdro to control them. These control products are mixed with corn gluten which the ants will gather as food. They will carry the little yellow granules into the mound and feed it to their little ant buddies, as well as to the queen (or queens!). It takes about 10 days for this stuff to show it’s effects, but Brother, it works! Ants will haul out their dead and place them in one area near the mound, sort of like that scene out of Monty Python’s Holy Grail where the character trudges along the village street banging on a pot and shouting, “Bring out your dead!”.

These baits have a very low application rate, usually about one pound per acre, and it only takes two applications a year to get very good control. When you go to your favorite Garden Center to purchase this stuff, pick up a little hand-held spreader that looks like a flour sifter. It’s the best way I know to apply a bait like this. When you apply it remember you don’t have to get total coverage, as you would with a fertilizer or weed control. Just make a pass every 25 feet or so until you get enough out to meet the correct application rate.

The time to apply this is now! (Late March to early April), then again in September when the ants are foraging for winter. It may not totally eliminate your fire ant problem, but you will notice a significant decline in the number of mounds.

Posted in General.

Red Maple in Flower

“What!? A maple tree blooms?” Why, yes. Everything blooms, unless it’s a fern. And that red to red-orange haze you may see among the trees now is that of our native Red Maple.

When I say ‘native’ is does not mean ‘exclusive to the South’. This gem of a tree is native from central Florida to Canada.  It prefers moist, or even wet soil, but will grow on dry upland soil as well.  It is fast growing, has great fall color (usually) and is well-behaved in the landscape.  The nursery trade has created some outstanding cultivated varieties, called ‘cultivars’, that will have consistent size, shape, and fall color.  Look for ‘October Glory’ or ‘Red Sunset’, and avoid anything with Silver Maple in it’s lineage.

These fuzzy red blooms will soon morph into red, burgundy, or tan-colored seeds.  They use the ‘helicopter’ configuration to spin away from the parent tree as they are released.

Now is the second-best time of year to plant them.  Fall is the best,  mid- to late spring is the worst. Give them lots of room, especially when near a house or over-head power lines.

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Posted in Rhodsydea.

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Apply Crabgrass Preventer Early This Year

Because of the unusually warm winter we are having this year, it would be a good idea to apply your crabgrass preventer earlier than normal, as in NOW.

The conventional wisdom says that crabgrass preventer is applied when the Forsythia, or Yellow Bells, are blooming. And no, Forsythia does not ’cause’ crabgrass any more than February ’causes’ Super Bowls. It’s just that some weed guy at a university somewhere noticed that crabgrass germinates under the same conditions that Forsythia  blooms. Clever. That rule of thumb applies most of the time….except when the winter weather for Atlanta is more like that of Orlando.


First caveat: Finding the crabgrass preventer at the Garden Center or big box might be a trick, because they may not have it available for sale yet. You’ll know it when you see it, it will say “Crabgrass Preventer” on the bag.  Second caveat: You will probably need to apply a second treatment in late April to make sure you  get good control.  The lawn care guys call this a ‘split application’ because they usually will apply the preventer at half the recommended rate, but do it six or eight weeks apart to get really great extended benefits of the product. It would be wise to purchase all you need now because it probably won’t be available when you need it again in late Spring.

As always, measure the area you are applying these products, and always, always read and follow label directions.

As long as you’re here, how ’bout signing up for my semi-regular Southern Garden Coach update here?

Posted in General.

Really, really late bloomers

Sometimes things don’t go as planned…

even for a garden coach.

Gerbera Daisy

In the spring I found these hot pink Gerbera Daisies at a local big box.  I built a new bed for annual color at my front door and thought these would be great as part of a small planting that was to include Lantana ‘New Gold’, although that never happened.This bed I built was small, about 3 feet long by a foot and a half wide, and curved like a banana to fit the curve of the pavement. And this was what I call a ‘dump’ bed, where I simply ‘dump’ the ingredients for the bed on top of the ground and plant directly in it. It is great to do this for drainage (important for Gerberas and other annuals) and for elevation (to raise little plants up a bit to make them more noticeable). It is quick and effective and the plants love it, but you do have to have plenty of stuff to build a bed like this.  In short, dump beds are probably the most expensive option, but for small beds of annuals, perennials, or for really pricey shrubs, it is well worth it.

I used my own compost blended with some really good soil I borrowed from another spot in the garden and added a generous amount of Osmocote fertilizer to the bed. The soil looked good enough to eat. It had that wonderfully earthy smell that just screams, “I’m gonna grow some great stuff!” Well, grow stuff it did. In fact, it grew the Gerberas so well that they didn’t bloom. Yep. No blooms all summer. No blooms in the fall. No blooms until now…and it’s late December.

Huh? Really?

How can that be? Healthy plants would be blooming plants, right? Not necessarily.  Sometimes the growing conditions are more favorable for leafy growth than bloom-y growth. I think I went a bit too far to build a great bed and the plants just reveled in their great soil and just didn’t need to bloom. They looked like cabbage.

The gardening books say Gerberas are a half-hardy perennial in the Atlanta area, which means they are about half as likely to croak in the winter as they are to survive until next spring, and mine are blooming at a time when they should be, according to the books, be laying down for the winter. I suspect  they simply used up the good stuff in the soil about now and decided it was ok to bloom now.

I often make the point that plants don’t read gardening books, and this is a good example. So let’s see if these make it to April.  Maybe I’ll get around to adding those lantana then.


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Rented Trees

OK, I confess I’m a sucker for weddings. One reason is because I am enjoying my own 28-plus year marriage to my sweet wife Becky. I’ll tell you the other reason in person the next time I see you, if you will remind me.

Trees a the Royal WeddingIf you’ve seen pictures of the Royal Wedding you may have noticed the allee of large maple trees lining the aisle of the abbey. I thought they looked great and added a nice touch to the ceremony. Just as trees will do planted on the outside of a building, these gave a human scale to the soaring heights of the church. Symbolically, they represent Creation, or Nature, or the seasons.

It’s the nature of our culture to copy things we deem as cool or cutting edge.  I think there will be weddings in the months to come that copy Kate’s dress, the music, and the flowers. I also think couples will want to use the tree idea as well.

There is an opportunity here for the growers of container trees to market themselves to wedding florists to rent their large-container trees for people wanting to “borrow” ideas from the Royal Wedding. The U.K. Mail reported that they spent about $83,000 on the trees. Of course, I guess most of the money was in the handling and special containers designed to dress up the black plastic nursery containers. Do you see a potential market here? What about selling healthy liners of the rented tree species to be given away to guests as a memento of the wedding? They could be packaged and tagged with instructions on planting, and of course include sappy references to watching the tree grow as the young couple’s love grows.

It’s the symbolism, people!

Posted in General.

More Take Home Lessons from Walt Disney World

My family and I enjoy Disney.

My friends would laugh out loud and tell you that’s an understatement. See, we go to Walt Disney World at least two, and usually three times a year. In fact, this very blog post is being crafted from the Saratoga Springs resort while my wife and I are attending Disney’s Flower and Garden Festival.

As I mentioned in an earlier post with a similar name, the landscapes at Disney can provide us with some object lessons we can apply to our own landscapes, if we dare to look beyond the ‘WOW’ effect.

Most folks who visit the parks don’t realize Disney has very little turf, or grass, inside the parks. The Magic Kingdom has a fair amount, but the younger parks have even less.  The newest, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, has virtually no turf inside the park. I’m quite sure Disney has decided, like I have, that turf grass is the most expensive part of the landscape. When you consider the cost of the mower, the gas for the mower, fertilizer, weed control chemicals, and the big one…your time, turf grass is a very expensive endeavor. That said, there is a benefit to having some turf.  It unifies the landscape design and is a foil for the coarser textures of nearby landscape shrubs. It’s kind of like ‘white space’ on a wall full of pictures.

Epcot Flower & Garden Festival

Only a small amount of turf is used to tie these colorful beds together.

When you do have turf grass, use these rules as a guide:

Select the best type of grass for your whole garden. Having the same grass in front and back makes gardening much, much easier. You can plan on using the same fertilizer, weed controls, and even the same mowing height.  If you have more shade in one area, select the grass that is the most shade tolerant for the whole garden. Most grasses will do just fine in more sun.

Grow grass where it can be successful. Sometimes an area is too shady or too…whatever for grass to grow. If you don’t have the right conditions, it’s better to acquiesce to those conditions and do something other than grass. Ground covers, for instance, will usually do well where grass will not.  I get amused by people who want to negotiate with me when I tell them an area is too shady for grass. “Well, what if I promise to water it and love it and take care of it? Can I grow grass there then?”  It’s not really up to me, Lady.

Grow grass in sections large enough to matter. I have seen people try to grow grass in itty bitty narrow strips that aren’t even big enough to be mowed with one pass of a mower. Why??? Practically every time I’ve seen this, it would make more sense to completely do away with that section of grass and expand the shrub or flower bed adjacent to it. It is tricky to apply fertilizer and chemicals without being wasteful.  And irrigation for small areas, properly done, is quite expensive too.

At the risk of taking this idea too far, it’s important to remember to use trees, shrubs, and ground covers in a way that accentuates your house and how you want to use it. In a word: Minimize the grass, maximize the look.

Posted in General, Lawn Care.

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Take-home Lessons from Walt Disney World

While vacationing with my family at the Walt Disney World Resort last fall it occurred to me that the landscapes at that place can be so strikingly beautiful, so overwhelmingly perfect, that the average homeowner might not appreciate some of the aspects of these landscapes that will apply to their homes and gardens.  But there are many “take home lessons” from the Walt Disney World Parks and Resorts and their great landscapes.Landscape design presentation

Perhaps the most basic lesson is to plan your landscape, or let a professional help you.  Now, I don’t know the organizational flow chart of the Horticulture department there, but I can safely guess that they have a few landscape architects and designers on staff. These are professional, experienced people that are capable and prepared to design those magical landscapes. You can use this same approach in your home landscape. It doesn’t matter if your home is a year old or a hundred years, it is never too late (or too soon, for that matter) to start the design process. Hire a landscape professional that you like and to whom you feel comfortable talking.  Check their references, and see how well they listen to you.  A designer who wants to do a ‘cookie-cutter’ design or who wants to impose their own design ideals is not for you.  And of course, a design can be planted in phases, as time and money allow.

After getting a thoughtful landscape design, let’s do something else that Disney does well: Create a spectacular entrance!  Every one of the four major parks, as well as every resort on the property has a well-done entrance. Each one clearly communicates  a mood or a tone that the ‘guests’ can expect to find once inside.  Accomplishing this in a subdivision is a little trickier than in a theme park, but the lesson still applies.  The way I apply this idea is to make the front of the home as welcoming and inviting as possible.  It’s part of my fundamental design criterion to draw the viewers eye into the landscape, right up to the front door.  I accomplish this through the use of bed lines, contrasting textures of the plantings, framing the view, and a judicious use of color. It’s important to avoid overly busy home landscapes as this will only draw attention to the landscape itself, rather than the front door of the home.  Entrance to Disney's Magic Kingdom in September

Posted in General.

June is for Daylilies

Clump of gorgeous Rose Lyric Daylilies.

June is the time for most daylily blooms

Perhaps one of the easiest, most reliable, and trouble-free perennials for a sunny spot here in the South is the daylily or Hemerocallis. This Latin epithet means ‘beauty for a day’ and in fact, each flower opens and closes within the span of 24 hours.

If you have not tried growing daylilies, I suggest you get busy right away. They will grow most anywhere, but they do best in full sun with rich, well-drained soil, and ample moisture.  They also do quite well in a pot or planter.

If you have been growing daylilies, I want to encourage you to get some different varieties to try. You see, the plant breeders have discovered that daylilies are as easy to manipulate as they are to grow, so we have a huge selection of colors, sizes, and bloom times from which to choose.

After bloom, the bloom stalk (or more properly: scape) can be removed with pruners or scissors while it remains green.  After it turns brown in the late summer or fall it can usually be removed without a cutting tool.  If you allow it to  a produce seed pod, it will direct more energy toward seed production and less to the mass of the plant. The foliage looks pleasant and ‘grassy’ for the remainder of the season. In the winter the foliage turns brown and withers. Some varieties are semi-evergreen and don’t go completely dormant, but some of this depends on where you are. The warmer the winter, the more green foliage you will have….probably. One more note about the foliage: If you have a long hot summer that beats down the foliage of your plants, it’s OK to cut the whole clump down to 2 or 3 inches and allow it to grow new leaves.

To find new daylilies, cruise around the garden centers near your home. You could also  do a Google search for daylilies and will undoubtedly find several mail order nurseries to peruse.  Don’t be afraid to order bare root plants, even during the summer months.  Daylilies are tough and will be just fine. This is a good way to stretch your dollars, too. Bare root plants are cheaper to ship so you can buy some really cool new hybrids or just buy more of a particular color.  Just remember to unpack them as soon as they arrive and put them in a pot of fresh potting soil, then keep them watered. Better yet, have the bed ready and plant them straight away in their new home. If the foliage looks a little shaggy, trim it with scissors and let it start fresh. Because they are usually so prolific, daylilies have  become a great ‘pass along’ plant that is great to share with family or friends.

Posted in General.

Two Things Everyone Should Know Before Buying Fertilizer

It’s dizzying, downright mindboggling.

Walk into your favorite garden center, or the garden department of a big box home center to buy fertilizer for your grass, and you may be overwhelmed by the choices offered.

There are fertilizers for different types of grass, and combination products for every situation imaginable. There is Weed and Feed, Seed and Sod, Gloom and Doom, and Fur and Feather fertilizers.  And I think I saw one that was strictly for applying on Wednesdays.

To avoid all of this confusion, you need two key pieces of information:

1. The type of grass you possess, and

2.The number of square feet in your lawn.

If you don’t know, or aren’t sure what type of grass you have, dig up a little clump from an inconspicuous place and take it somewhere for identification. An independent Garden Center would be my first choice. The local County Extension Agent would be the next best bet. You could also send a picture of it to me and I could try to identify it for you, but the photo needs to be crystal clear.  If your turf is less than 50% of any desirable grass, it is time to start over, but that’s a blog post for a different day.

Once you know what type of grass you have, you need to know how much of it you have. Using a measuring wheel or long tape measure, take measurements of your turf grass areas. Do not ‘step it off’. Not only does everyone have a different length gait, but no one can consistently walk the same all of the time. (I’ve tried this when I forgot to bring my measuring wheel.  It was a disaster.)  Knowing your turf area in square feet is basic information necessary in figuring how much fertilizer, lime, and weed control products you need to buy and apply. The beautiful part of this is once you determine the square footage of your turf area; you don’t need to do it again, unless you make major changes to your landscape.

To get started, get a note pad, pen, measuring device, and a calculator. A measuring wheel is my favorite measuring device because it’s fast and I’m able to use it without a helper. The Big Box stores sell wheels for around $65-$70, but you can rent one from most rental stores for a mere pittance.   If you use a tape, get at least a 50’ and get a helper to hold the ‘Alabama’ end. (Sorry, it’s a surveyor joke.) Make the helper feel important by getting them to write down the measurements as you call them out.

This process uses some very basic 5th grade geometry. Remember that area is determined by measuring the length and the width, then multiplying them together. Simple, right? Visualize your lawn area as a collection of geometric shapes, usually rectangles and squares. For each ‘shape’ measure the length and width, then write it down to look like a math problem.  When you are finished you should have a column of math problems that look like this (for example):

24 X 18

56 X 32

16 X 19

12 X 5

…and so on until you have measured your entire lawn area.

Sit down with your calculator and do the math for each problem, then add together the totals to arrive at the square footage of your turf area.

Please note that it is not necessary to get EXACT measurements of every last blade of grass.  You can be ‘out’ by 10% and still be fine with applying fertilizer or other lawn care products.  Also, because few lawns are laid out in perfect geometric shapes, you’ll have to measure odd-shaped areas as if they were squares or rectangles. Oh, and sometimes it’s necessary to measure an area as a triangle.  The area of a triangle is determined by multiplying half the base length times the height.  For more detailed information, I suggest you Google this concept. It isn’t that difficult, just tedious to explain, and I’m about to put myself to sleep.

Let’s see, now:

Turfgrass identified? Check!

Lawn area measured and calculated? Check!

The worst mistake you can make is to guess at the above two tidbits of information while you are standing next to a stack of fertilizer at the store.  And now that you have the two most critical bits of information, you have the information you need to make intelligent purchase of lawn care fertilizer and chemicals.

Posted in Lawn Care.

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Indian Hawthorns are seeing spots

Indian Hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica) hit the landscape scene pretty big in the early 1980′s. At the time I turned up my nose at them because I didn’t believe they were winter hardy in the metro Atlanta area. By the winter of 1983-84 I was justified in my concerns when the temps dropped to -5 at my house in Marietta.  The hawthorns didn’t make it. None of them. Of course, they weren’t the only ones that succumbed.  Many of the Southern Indica azaleas, crepemyrtles, and pyracantha didn’t make it either.  Come to think of it, we don’t use pyracantha (Firethorne, in English) much to this day.  Maybe it’s the thorns.Indian Hawthorne with Leaf Spot

At any rate, Indian Hawthorn came roaring back to popularity after that very hard winter.  People were replacing dead Indian Hawthorn with more Indian Hawthorn.  I remember thinking, “How stupid. The replacement plants will just freeze again the next time we have a hard winter.”  That was perhaps 1985 and they have yet to have a large scale die off like they did in 1983. Was I mistaken?

A couple of things happened in the years since.  First, we had several years of mild or ‘normal’ winters. Second, the plant breeders got busy, and perhaps learned a lesson from that cold winter, and began to breed plants that were a little more cold hardy that the early cultivars.  That was 25 years ago and it’s been ‘steady as she goes’.  Or has it?

While there hasn’t been a really bad winter to cause a large scale die off there is another nemesis lurking in the landscape.  Entomosporium leaf spot (Leaf Spot, in English) is causing moderate losses in Indian Hawthorn plantings in the metro Atlanta area. I have observed plantings in Lilburn and Locust Grove just this week that showed heavy infestations of the disease.

Before we discuss the treatment, a little background info: Indian hawthorn is in the Rose Family (Rosaceae, in Latin). Kin not only to roses, but apple trees, and Red Tip Photinias. Remember Red Tips? I remember selling them by the hundreds on any Saturday in the spring when I managed a Pike Nursery in the 80′s. They sold in one gallon pots for $1.88 and my little store would sell 500 to 1,000 a week. Red Tips were great until we had a couple of wet winters and they contracted a case of….you guessed it! Entomosporium Leaf Spot! Red Tips all across the land were dropping leaves like flies and there was little that could be done for them.  It was a good example of what happens when we plant too much of one thing. Today you see Red Tips only rarely. Typically, they are in old hedge rows that have been abandoned, growing to 15′ or so when they aren’t sheared constantly. It’s ironic to me that the best treatment for the disease included leaving them alone.

While Indian hawthorn aren’t doomed to a similar fate as Red Tips, I think we will see some noticeable losses as we exit this rainy winter . Treatment includes pruning, sanitation,  and spraying. Pruning , or shearing, is helpful to generate fresh growth where the plant has been defoliated . Sanitation means cleaning up the dead leaves that have fallen under the plant. This is more easily said than done because of the dense branch structure of the plant. Dig out what you can with your hands, then try using a blower to blast more out.  A light layer of fresh, not re-used, pine straw will help reduce re-infecting the plant. And finally, spraying the plants with a fungicide called Mancozeb will keep the Leaf Spot at bay. As always, read and follow label directions when using any pesticide.

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