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Curb Appeal


Garden books make great presents (or gifts)

For gardeners, there’s almost nothing better than having a couple of gardening books under the tree. During the winter, it’s fun to read, dream and plan about the coming year’s growing season. They provide an unlimited source for new ideas, plants to try and ways to make gardening more fun for the whole family. 
 
One of my favorites, “A Southern Woman’s Guide to Herbs,” written by my dear friend and author Jaclyn Weldon White, is a must have. Jackie, who lives in Braselton, is known for her true-crime, fiction and biographies, including “Whisper to the Black Candle,” the true story of Macon’s Anjette Lyles, and “Sidetracked – Two Women, Two Cameras, and Lunches on Sherman’s Trail.”
 
“A Southern Woman’s Guide to Herbs,” is not fussy. It’s down-to-earth and includes common-sense planting and growing tips, ways to use, preserve and enjoy herbs and common medical and cosmetic uses. Recipes range from shrimp and herb pasta and lavender cookies to cocktails. Check out her books at Amazon and visit her website at www.jaclynweldonwhite.com
 
The Quarto Group publishers always has excellent books about gardening. From helping kids get their hands dirty growing plants and vegetables to instructional books about hydroponic gardening, the company’s selection is broad-based and informative. Here are some suggestions for this year’s Christmas gifts: 
  • Gardening Lab for Kids” by Renata Gossen Brown. Fifty two fun experiments for gardeners to engage youngsters in learning, growing plants, harvesting, playing and enjoying the garden. Check out info about making bird feeders, crafting stepping stones or building a sweet pea teepee.
  • The Half-Hour Allotment” by Lia Leendertz. When you only have 30 minutes, here are great suggestions about how to spend it making your garden more productive. It’s a practical guide for new and experienced gardeners and covers a broad range of subjects.
  • Herbal Adventures” by Rachel Jepson Wolf. Fun outdoor activities for adults and children that describes various cultivated and wild plants, suggests ways to use plants medicinally, and even how to make edible dandelion fritters.
  • DYI Hydroponic Gardens” by Tyler Baras. Design and build an inexpensive way to grow plants in water without soil. With detailed instructions and diagrams, it’s suited for someone just dabbling in hydroponics or the serious soil-less grower. 
  • “Living Décor” by Maria Colletti. Learn to use living plant materials and houseplants to bring new life to your home. Grow moss-jar gardens, terrariums and succulents. 
  • And for our endangered and threatened pollinators, check out: “The Pollinator Victory Garden” by Kim Eierman. Pollinators, from birds, butterflies, insects, bees and bats, are responsible for more than 95 percent of the world’s food sources. Without them, we’d have no grains to feed animals, no vegetables or fruits, no way for plants to reproduce. This book is a comprehensive guide to the importance of pollinators and step-by-step ways to ensure that pollinators can have habitats. 

For these and other books, visit www.quartoknows.com. There you’ll find a complete selection of books, plus blogs, ideas about crafts and engaging all members of the family in projects and quality time together.
 
 

Pamela A. Keene is our senior staff writer and a Hall County Master Gardener.








November 2020 column


Good trees to plant now for fall color, seasonal interest

As the fall colors paint the trees this month, perhaps you wonder how to replicate their beauty in your back yard. And, because fall is the very best time to plant trees and shrubs, you can get a head start for next year. Arborist and landscape designer Suzanne Brosche, co-owner of Art of Stone Gardening, has selected a half-dozen trees to consider. You can find these particular species at area tree-specialty nurseries, including Kinsey Family Farms in north Gainesville. 
 
Trees with interesting bark 
“The Lacebark Elm ‘Allee’ have beautiful bark that naturally peels to show vibrant shades of green, gray, orange and brown and creates a lovely texture,” Brosche said. “It’s a fast-growing shade tree that can reach heights of 40 to 60 feet.” This elm has arching branches on a vase-shaped tree and forms a rounded canopy. Give it plenty of room to grow and plant in full sun.
 
Maple trees come in too many varieties to count, but one that Brosche recommends is the Paperbark Maple.  “The Paperbark Maple has peeling orange-cinnamon brown bark that adds winter interest to Southern landscapes,” she said. “With deep-green three-lobed leaves, the foliage turns bright red-orange in the fall.” This maple, which ranges from 15 to 30 feet tall, is good for smaller landscape spaces and is very adaptable to Georgia climates.
 
Stunning color
Trees that bloom or have unusual leaves can be conversation-starters in your landscape. “The native crabapple is a show-stopper in the spring, is easy to grow and provides food for birds and wildlife with its small fruits,” Brosche said. “And best of all it’s a native plant, which means it thrives in our climate.” 
The leaves emerge red in the spring and blooms with profuse pink flowers that are also fragrant. It’s bark is colors and scaly, and although it drops its leaves in the fall and winter, the bark remains to provide interest in the winter. 
 
Ginkgo, with its delicate fan-shaped leaves, has grown on the planet for millions of years. Leaf fossils have been found that date back more than 270 million years. “Ginkgo is a survivor that can tolerate heat, air pollution and confined spaces,” she said. “It establishes easily in many settings and in the fall the leaves turn a beautiful lemon yellow. Be sure to plant only the male species; the female species yields fruit that drops in the winter and can be messy and pungent.” 
 
Go native and help wildlife 
Native trees are always winners in the landscape, because in addition to being adaptable, they are a natural way to create a habitat and food for birds and woodland animals.  “When it comes to natives that help the environment, black tupelo is a standout,” Brosche said. “Our honeybee population is threatened by encroachment, pollution and chemicals. By planting trees that support honeybees and are attracted to their blooms, you’re paying it forward for future generations. And bees, as pollinators, are responsible for 99 percent of our food supply.”
 
Black tupelo’s glossy dark green leaves in summer turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, bright red, burgundy and purple in the fall. The bark looks like alligator hide. 
 
Kousa dogwood is unusual because of its pointed four-petaled blossoms. Growing only 15 to 20 feet tall, it’s a good choice for a shady area beneath other trees. In the fall, the leaves turn deep red and reddish purple.” “While it’s not a native, it is much more tolerate of difficult growing conditions,” Brosche said. “It needs more sun than a native dogwood, but thrives in our north Georgia acidic soils. The fruit resembles a cross between a raspberry and strawberry, but it is not edible for humans. Birds, however, love it and will flock to your yard in the fall and winter.”
 
For more info about trees, visit www.artofstonegardening.com.

October 2020 column

Autumn leaves can be a gardener's best friend

Wait! Don’t rake up and toss those leaves. You may be wasting good resources for your garden and for wildlife. Instead, rake and bag them because they make great mulch to protect your plants from winter freezes. They’re also a great addition to you compost heap.
 
And if you don’t want to rake them at all, the National Audubon Society recommends leaving at least some of them on the ground. The birds will appreciate them as a source of shelter and even food. 
For the birds 
 
Trimming back your perennials, such as cone flowers, black-eyed Susans and other seed-bearing blossoms, will deprive birds from a natural food source. They’ll feed on the seeds, even if they’re so small you can’t really see them. Other plants, such as pampas grass and muhly grass with their tall feather-like blooms, provide a veritable picnic for birds as the weather turns cold. No need to trim them back until late winter.
 
Leaving some leaves on your lawn also gives the birds a place to shelter. They can nestle under them, and along with the heat from the ground, this will help keep them warm. Consider building a lose brush pile of leaves and trimmings from plants to create protection from predators for your birds. With bare trees in winter, they have fewer places to hide.
 
Be sure to keep your feeders filled, and thoroughly clean them at least once a month to removed stale seeds and mold.
 
For your garden 
Fall’s a good time to start composting, especially with the large amount of leaves in your yard. Rake them and pile them, alternating with non-meat kitchen scraps and grass clippings, to get a head start on making rich soil to use in spring plantings. 
 
You can also collect leaves using your lawn mower set on “shred” or mulch, then bag them. Use them to protect tender plants and those that go dormant, such as hostas, elephant ears, caladiums, half-hardy and perennial salvia and dahlias. Pile them on lightly to a thickness of about three inches and they’ll help hold in the ground’s heat. Brush them aside when the weather warms back up and you’ll be adding nutrients to the soil as the leaves decompose next year.

September 2020 column

 

Oh, deer! So cute, but they're pests in the garden

Mama deer with their baby spotted fawns are so cute in the wild. They’re especially prolific around Lake Lanier, where acres and acres of forested land make perfect year-round shelter. You can’t help but go “Aw,” when you see them grazing on the side of the road near dusk or wandering the woods in the early mornings. 
 
What we tend to forget is that they were here first. All our development of subdivisions, commercial growth and retail has taken over much of their home territory. Who can blame them for seeking out easy pickings in home landscapes for food and nourishment?
 
I have a good friend who walks a lakeside marina every afternoon. She and her walking buddy bring apples and carrots and the deer have spread the word. Each afternoon a mini-herd of mamas and babies meets them along their customary path. The deer are smart; they know where their good food is coming from. 
 
Yes, it’s sweet, but if you’re a gardener, you may see the deer from a different viewpoint.
 
Garden browsers beware
Deer have to eat – don’t we all? – and your vegetable garden, hydrangeas, hostas, fruit trees, daylilies and roses are a veritable smorgasbord for these sweet creatures. Indian hawthorns, popular with residential builders as foundation plantings, are also prime pickings for deer. This fall and winter, expect your pansies to attract deer, who indiscriminately pull up plants and drag them across your yard.
 
However, you can protect your landscape without hurting Bambi and his mom. The folks at Pike Nurseries recently sent out a news release about deer-resistant plants and ways to keep deer on their side of the fence. Here are their tips:
 
Choose plants that are more deer resistant, such as ornamental grasses, coneflowers, boxwood, plus herbs like lavender, rosemary and thyme. Daffodils are a good choice for spring color because deer won’t eat them. Deer love daylilies, but it turns out that plant breeders have created deer-resistant Stella d’Ora daylilies, so plant this variety instead of more showy daylilies. 
 
Create a natural boundary around your deer favorites by planting less favorable landscape materials around them. This will create a bit of protection for existing flower beds and plantings.
 
If you must use a repellant, use an all-natural product, such as Go Away! Deer and Rabbit Repellent spray made with hot-pepper extract, or Milorganite organic fertilizer. These smells and tastes will help keep deer at bay.  Other products like Liquid Fence, Bobbex and Hinder work well, but they are really smelly and must be applied every 10 days to two weeks.
 
Do fence them out
Deer can jump and even a tall fence won’t completely deter them, especially if your gates are shorter than the fence.
 
I’ve surrounded my hybrid rose gardens with a very low-voltage electric fence. It’s not pretty but it works, let me tell you. I’ve bumped into it from time to time and gotten a little tingle, but it has certainly protected my hybrid teas. Rick built an 8-foot fence around and vegetable/fruit patches with tall fences and topped it with dangling flagging tape. So far, so good. 
 
Sometimes it’s best to give in 
If you are still plagued by hungry deer, remember this: No plant is completely deer-proof. If they’re hungry enough, they will eat anything. 
 
Even if you do everything in your power to keep the deer away, realize you’re outnumbered. The deer were here first and they sort of have the right of way.
 


August 2020 column

 

Hydrangeas: I'd rather be pink

Last month was all about blueberries, but now they’re gone until next season. We netted more than 100 pounds from our 12 bushes. Soon it will be time to prune, but not until fall. 
 
As the summer progresses, hydrangeas take center stage. With nearly a half-dozen varieties that grow well in North Georgia, it’s hard to pick a favorite. From the large white blooms of Annabelle to the distinctive Oak Leaf with cone-shaped bloom heads, the changeable pink, lavender, purple or blue Mopheads, and sun-loving Panicles, you can fill your yard from shade areas to full sun with a full summer of flowering.
 
Mopheads
Their wide range of colors is generally determined by the PH of the soil. If it’s acidic, meaning the PH is low as much of our Georgia clay, you’re likely to have blue flowers. By adding lime for the garden to be more alkaline, your blue mopheads will gradually produce pink blooms. First, they’ll move to lavenders and purples, then eventually – and I mean eventually, like several years – reward you with deep pink flowers.
 
Some people are fortunate to have both pink and blue on the same or adjacent plants without any coercion. Other gardeners struggle – like me – to convert their blue Mopheads to pink. Go figure.
My Master Gardener friend Penny has the most beautiful deep purple Mopheads. She even shared a plant with me that we named Ginny that reliably bloomed purple in her yard. Three years later, the plant is so blue. Penny says her secret is using cold fireplace ashes on the plants each spring, sprinkling them at the base of the plants liberally. 
 
When we clean our wood stove for spring, that’s where our ashes go. But it doesn’t seem to be enough, so each spring and again in the fall, I dutifully purchase garden dolomitic lime from my local box retailer that’s labeled for changing soil acidity. After about five years, I’m finally seeing some progress with blues becoming slightly pinker. I have noticed that one of my Mopheads is always dark purple, but it’s planted next to our concrete patio and common sense tells me that it’s absorbing some elements from the nearby concrete.
 
Mopheads are just about finished for the season for most of us. Now’s the time to deadhead spent blossoms and give the plants a haircut. They bloom on last year’s wood, so the safest time to prune is immediately after flowering.
 
One year I waited until January and had not a single blossom. I learned my lesson. I’m going out one Saturday this month and pruning. No question. And I’ll be adding more lime this fall, raking it into the soil to give my quest for pink a boost. 
 
Other hydrangeas 
Annabelles are pretty carefree and can be covered with lovely basketball-sized blossoms. They prefer shade and are not as picky about the PH of the soil. Just keep them well watered. If you prune right after they bloom you may be rewarded with a second less showy flush of blossoms in the fall.
 
Panicle hydrangeas, which prefer full sun, start with white or light-pink conical blossoms. As they mature, they get slightly larger and turn pinkish. Today’s professional growers have developed a wide variety of cultivars that range from pure white to lime green to deep pink. Look for familiar names like Limelight, Firelight deep pink, and Vanilla Strawberry. They can be pruned any time of year except summer. 
 
Oak Leaf Hydrangeas are the show for multi-season color. One of the best places I’ve seen showy plantings is Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground. Planted beneath tree canopies at the edge of wooded areas, their elongated cone-shaped blossoms are prolific starting in June and continuing through summer. In the fall, the oak leaf-shaped foliage changes to reds, oranges, rust, and burgundy. The cinnamon-colored bark provides winter interest as it naturally peels. Oak Leaf is a Georgia native plant, an added reason for planting it in your yard.
 
A word about browsers 
No, not your computer browsers. I’m talking about deer. All types of hydrangeas are among their favorite foods. The best way to keep deer at bay is to spray them every 10 to 14 days with a proven deer repellent. 
 
Two brands work for me, using them in rotation – Liquid Fence and Hinder. Both stink, but that’s the point. The smell and the taste deter browsing by deer, but they are not harmful to wildlife. Buy both in concentrates and mix according to package instructions. My 4-gallon backpack sprayer and I have a standing appointment every weekend and so far this year, we’ve kept the deer away from my garden.
 
Sources for hydrangeas
Locally owned nurseries specialize in selling multiple varieties of plants and they’re a good bet for a wide range of hydrangea cultivars. You can find basic types at box retailers or just order online.

If you have friends with gardens, ask them to share with you, either by air-layering – placing a branch on the ground weighted down with a brick or rock until roots develop, typically six months or so – or by taking cuttings and rooting them in water or moist potting soil. 
 
The University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension offers publications about gardening at no charge.  

July 2020 column

I'd rather be blue - blueberries, that is

Things are pretty blue around our house these days, with the prolific output of our dozen or so blueberry bushes. From just 10 days of harvesting beginning in mid-June, Rick and I have picked nearly 55 pounds, our biggest yield ever.
 
And that only puts us about one-third of the way into the picking season. Our friends are loving the bounty of our harvest and our freezer is bursting at the seems with quarts of luscious berries. We are willingly sharing and some friends even suggest that I set up a stand at a local farmer’s market.
 
Here’s the secret: feed them at least twice a season and water them deeply once a week. Use a slow-release acidic plant fertilizer, such as Milorganite or Holly-Tone for azaleas, camellias and other acid-loving plants. Read the package instructions for amount and method of application; usually with my mature plants approaching six feet tall, I’ll use about one-half to three-quarters of a cup spread at the drip line. 
 
Caution: With any granular fertilizer application, do NOT apply to the root/trunk/branch union. Keep fertilizers at least one foot away from the trunks or you will most likely kill your plant. 
 
Fertilizer burn is not pretty. I had an inexperienced garden helper last spring who literally dumped handfuls of 10-10-10 onto the centers of a prized azalea, my specimen Edgeworthia/Chinese Paper Plant, and a very special Rising Sun Redbud, killing them all within a week. I learned a lesson; if you want to fertilize properly, hire a certified landscape professional, or educate yourself before you begin.
 
Back to the blues 
Blueberries are the ideal fruit crop for Georgia. in fact, blueberries, now planted on former tobacco fields in South Georgia, have surpassed peaches as the state’s most productive commercial fruit crop. 
 
They’re easy to grow. The key is having at least two different cultivars of plants to allow for cross pollination. Rabbiteye is the most common variety and it is available in several different cultivars, including Climax, Powderblue, Premier or Brightwell. 
 
Blueberries are disease-resistant and don’t attract many insects. The plants thrive in full sun but can produce in some shade, through the yield is not as high. 
 
For pruning and growing advice, check out the free publications online at https://extension.uga.edu/publications.html. You’ll find expert guidance for all your garden needs and questions. 
 
Another blue shout-out. Our mophead hydrangeas are blooming non-stop right now, mostly blue with a couple of shrubs bearing deep violet clusters. Planted on the north side of our home in morning sunlight, the bushes are loaded. Over the past four years, we’ve dumped granulated lime and spent fireplace ashes on them to try and turn them all purple or even pink. Finally, they are on their way to a meaningful shift, but it will be a few more seasons before my color change is complete. 
Last month’s column response
 
Thanks to two readers who wrote about their own squirrel adventures and solutions. Lori Perdue of Cumming wrote with several tips, including relocating the feeders to a spot that’s protected by her climbing rose bushes. “Seems they don’t like thorny feet on the way up or falling after attempting to jump into said sharp vines. So far so good.”
 
George Daves sent me ideas for building sheet-metal baffles to mount on the poles. Cone-shaped, mounted below the feeders with the widest part facing the ground, the baffles are fairly easy to make and can be effective. George says he gets the sheet metal from a box retailer and attaches the hand-cut cones to the poles with hose clamps. “I fabricated this cone on my bird feeder pole over four years ago and a squirrel has not been able to get around it since.”
 
Let’s talk gardening
I love hearing from readers with ideas, questions and feedback. What would you like to see us write about in Curb Appeal? I’m open to suggestions. Email me at pam@pamelakeene.com.
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