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Jan. 28, 2020
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Curb Appeal

Winter color? No brainer with Southern Camelias

When most of the rest of the plant world is hibernating, count on the delicate Southern Camellia to brighten dreary days. With glossy green leaves and flowers that range in color from bright reds and soft pinks to pure whites and variegated, camellias are reliable bloomers from November through February.
And the good news is that they are really easy to grow. All they ask is a shady spot, proper planting and a bit of water during the heat of summer. Once they’re established, they will provide years of winter color. 
The exact timing of the blooms depends on the species and the cultivar. Basically, garden camellias are available in two types – japonica, a more compact shrub that likes shade, and sasanqua, which can take a bit more sun and has a more open growth habit. Within these species there are more than 2,300 named cultivars recognized and registered with the American Camellia Society, which, by the way, is headquartered in Fort Valley, Georgia, at Massee Lane Gardens,
Most Southern gardeners have at least one camellia in their yards, and it can be hard to stop at just one. Confession: I have planted at lease two dozen in my yard and continue to be tempted to purchase more each winter. 
Keys to planting 
The best time to plant camellias is in the cooler months, to allow the roots to establish before spring and summer heat. Dig a hole about twice the diameter of the root ball or pot, and work the soil to removed clumps. Add an organic soil amendment and mix in well. Gently unwind any pot-bound roots and spread them out. Position the plant so that the top of root ball is level or slightly higher than the soil you’re putting back in the hole. Water thoroughly once or twice a week, being careful not to over water.
Once they’ve bloomed, you can prune sasanquas back as much as one-third. This will stimulate growth and even more blooms for next winter. Japonicas can also be pruned, but be more conservative about how much you cut back.
When they’re producing new leaves and branches in the spring, apply fertilizer for acid-loving plants according to the package instructions. Holly-Tone makes one specifically for camellias and azaleas. Milorganite is also an excellent slow-release fertilizer with the added benefit of helping deter deer, which may graze on smaller camellias.
Georgia’s Camellia Trail 
The AHS, responsible for registering new camellias, has begun a First Ladies Collection of camellias. The first three cultivars in the collection are Betty Foy Sanders, Sandra Deal, named in 2015, and Rosalynn Carter, named in 2017.
When the Rosalynn Carter camellia was formally introduced in February 2017 at Massee Gardens in Fort Valley, Mrs. Carter also officially opened the Georgia Camellia Trail. Mrs. Deal attended the ribbon cutting; she established a camellia garden at the Governor’s Mansion in Atlanta with room to add other Georgia First Lady camellias. 
The Georgia Camellia Trail,, consists of 30 public gardens planted with an array of camellias. Some of the more notable gardens are at Armstrong State University Arboretum Camellia Gardens in Savannah; Betty Sheffield Memorial Garden in Quitman, which is often referred to as the Camellia City; Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah; Massee Lane Gardens in Fort Valley; and Sam M. Wellborn Garden in Columbus. 
Consider a field trip in January or February to see these amazing plants. Even if you only visit one or two of the gardens featured on the Georgia Camellia Trail, you may be inspired to add some to your own garden. They can be purchased at area box retailers and nurseries or ordered online if you’re interested in specific named varieties.

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

December 2019 column

Gifts for the gardener in your life

It’s the giving time of year and if you have a gardener on your list, you’re in luck. A gardener can always find room for one more plant, shrub or tree. And the internet is filled with the latest and greatest tools, garden gadgets and time-savers. Whether it’s a new pair of gardening gloves or a selection of vegetable seeds, the gardener in your life will be delighted with a present to support his or her digging-in-the-dirt habit. 
Gardening books
Around the holidays, a plethora of gardening books are released, ranging from how-to tomes to colorful coffee-table volumes meant for inspiration. 
Look local for suggestions. Jim Gibbs, creator of Gibbs Gardens in Ball Ground and founder of Gibbs Landscape Co. in Atlanta, has authored Gibbs Gardens: Reflections on a Gardening Life. It takes a look at Gibbs’ career and the decision to build Gibbs Gardens, a 20-year labor of love that resulted in a world-class destination visited by people around the globe. 
Other local authors include Joe Lamp’l, and his website, who has a national gardening television program, as well as blogs, podcasts and videos. His two books, “Over the Fence with Joe Gardener” and “The Green Gardener’s Guide,” are both chock-full of information for gardeners. Walter Reeves, known as The Georgia Gardener, has nearly a dozen Georgia- and Southern-specific titles. I recommend his “Month-by-Month Gardening,” co-authored with Erica Glasener. 
On the national front, consider some of these gardening books: “Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening” by Matt Mattus, “Compact Plants” by Jessica Walliser,” or one of these geared toward engaging young gardeners: “Gardening Lab for Kids” by Renata Fossen Brown or  “Herbal Adventures” by Rosemary Gladstar. 
All these books are available through Amazon or other online vendors.
Tools, gloves and more 
A new pair of hand pruners or a good lopper can excite any gardener. Check out popular brands including Fiskars, Felco or Tabor Tools all have high ratings. A 5-in-1 garden multi-tool does the work of several tools. Hoe and rake, scrape and cut, edge and chop, plus aerate and slice all with one tool. It has a two-headed design and is made of rust-resistant hardened steel. It’s sold by
And if you want to make a friend for life, give a pair of Bionic Gloves. Available from, they come in standard length and gauntlet/elbow length. Not only are they tough, the leather gloves were designed by a hand surgeon from goat leather, with silicone palms and fingertips. They feel great and fit like a dream; you can grab the smallest weeds without slippage. And if you grow roses, you’ll be protected from sharp thorns, especially with the gauntlet style.  
Plants, seeds and gift certificates 
December and January are good times to plant trees and shrubs in Georgia, so why not purchase a blooming camellia or a chaste tree for your landscape? Kinsey Family Farm in Gainesville,, or Lanier Nursery in Flowery Branch,, both have good selections of trees and shrubs. The staff at both is very knowledgeable about how and where to plant.
Peruse seed catalogs for unusual varieties of flowers and vegetables. Park Seed and Burpee both offer colorful options at their websites.
And if you can’t decide what to give the gardener on your list, a gift certificate in any dollar amount would always be welcome. Even better, why not make your own gift certificate pledge of four to five hours of your time to help your friend or family member with planting, weeding or other garden work?

November 2019 column

Add appeal with trees, shrubs; think Christmas trees

Now that the leaves have fallen off the trees and landscape plants have begun to go dormant, consider sprucing up your yard. November is a great time to add trees and shrubs. And get two-for-one by considering a live evergreen as this year’s Christmas tree, one that you can plant in your yard after the holidays. 
“It may seem early to think about Christmas trees in November, but if you’re in the market to add structure to your landscape, it’s really not too soon,” said Suzanne Brosche, co-owner of Art of Stone Gardening, “As you’re making your plans for additions to your landscape, consider adding a native evergreen that can also serve as this year’s Christmas tree.” 
November and December are the best times to plant trees and shrubs because the plants are approaching dormancy and have less water and nutrient requirements. “And if you have shrubs that haven’t been performing as well as you expect, now is the time to relocate them,” she said. “When the soil has begun to cool and trees and shrubs are going dormant, moving them is much less stressful to them. Yes, once they’re moved you will still need to water them, but demands for water are not as great in the cooler weather.” 
Shrubs that have outgrown their space and have become crowded can be moved now. Select about one-third to one-fourth of the plants and relocate them. Look for similar characteristics in the new site, such as the same amount of sun/shade, soil conditions, moisture and protection from wind.
“Make sure you dig up a large-enough root ball to bring with the plant,” she said. “This will also help with the transition to its new location. Dig the hole at least two times the width of the root ball and loosen the soil in the bottom of the hole, then backfill a bit. Be careful to keep the surface of the root ball several inches above the ground. Tamp the soil down gently after planting; it will settle farther as the plant grows into its new space.” 
This same planting technique works for new landscape installations as well. For trees and shrubs in pots, avoid planting them too deep. “If planted too deeply, trees and plants will not do well, often losing leaves or damaging the roots,” she said. “We’ve found that planting too deeply is a main cause of failure in landscape installations.” 
Add color or texture to your landscape by planting flowering trees, such as chaste trees that have lavender/purple blossoms or native service berries with white flowers. Seek out trees with interesting foliage as well, with different shaped leaves or unusual hues. Plum tree foliage ranges in color from green to deep burgundy. Many new varieties of maples provide intense fall color. Japanese maples have various shaped leaves, depending on the type, that can be lacy, feathery or palmate.
Brosche suggests purchasing trees and shrubs from local growers, such as Kinsey Family Farm,, off Jot-em-down Road in Gainesville. “They have an excellent selection and are very knowledgeable about native plans and their ideal growing conditions,” she said. “Spend a little time on their website to narrow your choices, then visit the farm to make your selection.”
Kinsey Family farm also sells Christmas trees, both live and cut. Ask them about caring for a live Christmas tree and how to plant it in your yard after the holidays. 
“Selecting an evergreen Christmas tree to add to your landscape each year can become a family tradition,” Brosche said. “And when you choose a native evergreen you’ll also be adding interest to your landscape for years to come.”

October 2019 column

Have a productive October in your garden

Now that the summer’s heat is behind us, it’s time to get back out into your garden. October is ideal for those miscellaneous garden chores that often get put off until you have time. 
Here’s a list to help you get started: 
• Do a soil test. Check with your local UGA Extension office for sample bags that include instructions for soil testing. Costing less than $10, a soil test can help you amend your soil for the crops or plants you’re planning to grow. For details, visit, and click on Programs & Services. Soil testing is on the drop-down menu. 
• Tidy up. Clean up your summer vegetable garden, pulling out spent plants, from tomatoes and okra to beans and peppers. Put away tomato cages and stakes. Now you’re ready to plant your winter crops, such as kale, turnips, beets, carrots and brussels sprouts. If you’re not planting winter crops, consider solarizing your garden soil. It’s easy when you have raised beds. Cut sections of black plastic to the size of the beds and anchor them. The sunshine will heat the soil and help kill diseases in it. Leave plastic in place until next spring. 
 Divide plants such as hostas and daylilies. Team up with neighbors and gardening friends for a plant swap. You’ll all reap the benefits come spring. 
 Plant your spring-blooming bulbs, such as daffodils. Naturalize them beneath trees by randomly scattering them, then digging individual holes. Plant them 1.5 to 2 times deeper than the height of the bulbs. Don’t waste your money on tulips; you’ll only be disappointed. Our temperatures in North Georgia don’t get cold enough to chill the bulbs for year-after-year repeat blooms. 
 Rake leaves and put them in compost bins. Combined with kitchen scraps and other materials, they will create excellent amendments for your garden by next spring. You can use leaves to mulch perennials and other tender plants. 
• Start scouting. Clean out summer annual beds and start scouting your source for winter color. Pansies, violas – including the newer Wave varieties, plus ornamental cabbage and Swiss chard can survive the cold and add bright spots along walkways, mailboxes or in containers on your porch, deck or patio. Be sure to water well and fertilize regularly for best blooms. 
• Spray Hinder and Liquid Fence. It deters deer grazing. Mix according to package directions and apply every two weeks to protect azaleas, hostas, roses, arborvitae and other evergreens, fruit and nut trees, many flowering ornaments, including red bud trees and varieties of hydrangeas. 
• Tool time. Clean and sharpen your garden tools and equipment. Pruners, loppers and shovels will last if you clean them, sharpen them and coat with lubricating oil, such as boiled linseed oil or tung oil. If you have warm-season grasses, they will go dormant by early November, so no more mowing until spring. Check the oil and spark plugs before putting the mower away for winter.
• Repot houseplants and tropical plants if overwintering indoors. Fresh potting mix will give them a boost of nutrients. Inspect them for bugs and pests before bringing them indoors. Apply an insecticidal soap for prevention.
You’ll be thankful once these chores are behind you. Then you’re ready to enjoy the rest of fall before the cold sets in.

September 2019 column

Ah, roses! Reap the rewards into fall

Whether you grow Knockouts, Hybrid Tea roses or something in between, despite this summer’s heat you can have beautiful blossoms way into October. Here’s the key: water, water, water. 
Of course there’s more to growing pretty roses, but watering regularly and deeply is the first step. Here in Northeast Georgia, especially with our extended dry spells between soaking rains, most roses will require deep watering at least twice a week. That means more than holding a hose on them for five minutes each and much more than running your inground irrigation system on them for 30 minutes. 
Roses need about five gallons of water per week at least, particularly when the weather is hovering between 85 and 95 degrees. First, determine how long it will take your outside hose to fill a 5-gallon bucket – you know, the big painters buckets you can from box retailers. Now you’ll know how much time to spend individually watering each bush.
I’ve found that using an oscillating sprinkler attached to the end of a garden hose is even better than individual watering. If your roses are not all planted in the same area of your yard, the adjacent plants will also appreciate a good soaking. 
Spend the money for a good sprinkler, usually between $15 and $20 each. It will last longer and deliver better results. Make sure it has a screen and washer where the sprinkler attaches to the hose. The screen will need cleaning periodically and when the washer it worn and loses its flexibility, replace it.
Because I have more than 35 Hybrid Tea rose bushes in two large gardens, I’ve invested in outdoor watering timers. In July and August, and perhaps into September, the timers will be set to run for 90 minutes every other day. This will ensure a good soaking and mechanize the process. 
By the way, our vegetable garden is also on a timer, set to water for about 90 minutes twice a week. Regular watering helps reduced blossom-end rot on our tomatoes and evens out the dry then wet conditions that can also weaken plants, making them more susceptible to disease. 
Roses are particular about what time of day they are watered. However, DO NOT water in the evenings. Wet leaves will promote the development of diseases, such as black spot, powdery mildew and downy mildew. 
The best time to water is in the mornings, although some growers say that a good soaking during the hot midday sun is perfectly fine. It’s a myth that you should avoid wetting the leaves. This old wives’ tale grew out of people who watered late in the day and increased disease because the leaves didn’t have time to dry out before the evening temperatures dropped. 
All roses benefit from deadheading after the blooms fade. Cut several inches below the blossom to remove the spent blooms and the first couple of sets of leaves. 
If you’re deadheading Knockouts, cut several inches below the bloom clusters. For Hybrid Teas, experts suggest cutting the stem just above the first five-leaf leaf. This is not necessary. New growth will sprout just below your cut; to encourage stronger regrowth and bloom, you can cut as much as eight to 10 inches below the dead bloom. 
Some of my rose bushes are as tall as 6 feet. To keep them under control, deadheading becomes a pruning. Discard deadheads and pruned branches to avoid encouraging disease. 
Heavy feeders 
Roses are heavy feeders. Feeding them regularly promotes vigorous growth and larger, more prolific blossoms.
A slow-release fertilizer, like Osmocote, can feed your roses for several months, but you’ll get better results applying it early in the season. A September feeding of Espoma Rose-tone or Miracle Gro using a hose-end sprayer will give your plants a boost. Be sure to follow the label instructions and don’t overfeed. This will further stress the plants. 
A word about deer 
Electric fence. It’s not pretty to surround your prize roses with an electric fence, but it has been my best solution for avoiding deer damage. For other plants, I use Liquid Fence or Hinder, sprayed liberally about every 10 days to two weeks for two to three applications. 

Enjoy your roses for the rest of the season. They require a bit of work and attention, but the rewards are great.

August 2019 column

When it's too hot to garden, plan your plot

The summer doldrums have struck. Your flowers are showing effects of the heat, and unless you’ve been able to water regularly, they may also look a bit piqued. It’s just too hot to spend much time in the garden. And besides, it’s summer, so if you’re going to be outdoors, at least head to the lake, the pool or the mountains. 
Keep cool inside and take some time to read the latest gardening books, especially those that may challenge your knowledge and provide great ideas for later this year or even for next year’s garden.

Some of the newest titles from Quarto Publishing Group can easily entice you to try new gardening techniques. Most are full-color, soft-cover books filled with projects, tips and new ways of approaching gardening. Here are some of the latest offerings from Quarto, available on the company’s website,, Amazon, or at major book retailers.
DIY Hydroponic Gardens, Tyler Baras. Learn how to grow plants in water with tips, plans for systems and recipes for the nutrient solutions to support the plants. The book includes plant-by-plant details for growing vegetables in soilless systems. 
Practical Organic Gardening, Mark Highland. Especially if you live and garden near Lake Lanier, organic gardening can help reduce contamination of the water sources while growing high-quality food. Avoid fertilizers, insecticides and man-made pollutants by learning about true organic and natural gardening. 
Gardener’s Guide to Compact Plants, Jessica Walliser. Do you have limited space for gardening? Check out this guide to the latest in compact plants and how to use them in your landscape. From column-shaped trees and dwarf shrubs to mini vegetables and shorter perennials, you can create a big impact in your landscape. 
Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening, Matt Mattus. Explore this hard-cover book that offers insight into multiple varieties of popular edibles, from artichokes and parsley to asparagus and potatoes. Think about trying some cool-season crops with tips in this book, such as lettuces, brussels sprouts and cabbages. 
No-Waste Kitchen Gardening, Katie Elzer-Peters. Did you know that you can regrow celery, green onions and lettuce from the base of the plants you’d ordinarily throw away? You can also harvest seeds from vegetables for the next season. Learn how with this easy to read book and stretch your food budget while becoming an innovative gardener. 
Vertical Vegetables, Amy Andrychowicz. Grow more vegetables in less space with information in this book that teaches you how to build functioning trellises, construct wall-hanging gardens or other upcycled everyday objects. In addition to the how-to, the book provides lists of the best plants to grow vertically. 
Vegetables Love Flowers, Lisa Mason Ziegler. Companion plantings of flowers and vegetables can create healthier growing conditions by encouraging pollinators and deterring common garden insects. But this book also tells you how to grow the best garden in your climate and which plants to pair for optimal results. 
Any of these books can help you beat the heat while cultivating your green thumb in the air-conditioned comfort of home. And they’ll inspire you to stretch your gardening skills and have garden-fresh produce all year long.
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