Southern Gardening for November 17, 2014 – Snapdragons meet winter challenges

http://msucares.com/news/print/sgnews/sg14/sg20141117.html

The snapdragon is a longtime favorite flower of mine for the cool-season landscape.

Many home gardeners seem surprised when I tell them snapdragons are pretty tolerant of cold weather. We are lucky to be able to grow these great landscape plants in Mississippi from the cool, fall season to the rising temperatures of spring. Once planted and acclimated, snapdragons seem to say, “Bring on the cold weather.”

An old standby is the Sonnet snapdragon. With colorful flower spikes available in a kaleidoscope of colors, it is easy to see why Sonnet snapdragons are so popular. Flower colors include orange, scarlet, pink, white and yellow. These plants, which will grow up to 30 inches tall with numerous flower spikes, are thrilling in a cool-season combination container. They are also great for cut flowers and have a soft cinnamon scent.

This is an image of Sonnet snapdragons in various colors.
Sonnet snapdragon plants grow up to 30 inches tall and offer colorful flower spikes in a kaleidoscope of shades that are great as cut flowers. They are thrilling in a cool-season combination container and have a soft cinnamon scent. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

If you don’t want to have big and tall snapdragons, there are nice dwarf-growing types. One of the best is the Montego series. Montego snapdragons will grow to only 10 inches tall and wide. Like their big cousins, they are available in a variety of colors that would be gorgeous lining the front edge of a flower bed, including red, yellow, white, pink and bicolor.

 

This is an image of a bicolored Montego snapdragon.
Montego snapdragons will grow to only 10 inches tall and wide. They are available in a variety of colors, including this bicolor, and they are gorgeous lining the front edge of a flower bed. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

These plants are ideal for planting in the full sun to partial shade. The individual flowers are aligned neatly and tightly bundled on the many stems. The flowers are big for the size of the plant, so it’s good that the Montego snapdragons have strong and sturdy stems. The flower heads will stay compact and not stretch in the warmer weather next spring.

Another good dwarf snapdragon is the Snapshot series. These plants will be a little shorter than the Montego, reaching 6 to 10 inches tall, but they will spread up to 14 inches. There are plenty of flowers with soft, pastel colors, as well as bicolors and a mixture.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least write a little about the Twinny compact snapdragons. I like these plants because of their double flowers that are sometimes called butterfly blooms. Twinny Peach was an All-America Selection in 2010 and has gorgeous flowers of distinct shades of peach, yellow and light orange. The Yellow Shades selection has flowers that are a beautiful combination of orangey-yellows.

Snapdragons require only a little bit of care to keep them looking good. Deadheading will keep them blooming and looking tidy. These plants are tolerant of low temperatures, but to prepare for extremely cold nights, cover them with a sheet or box until the cold spell passes.

Plant them in a well-drained landscape bed or container. Snapdragons need consistent moisture but don’t like wet feet. When planting, put a teaspoon of slow-release fertilizer in the hole first to keep the plants well fed. When warmer weather arrives in the spring, feed them again for a great colorful display.

Posted in Southern Gardening Columns | Leave a comment

Southern Gardening TV for Novemebr 17, 2014 – Amaranth

Several years ago if a gardener told me they had amaranth growing in their landscape I would have envisioned a weedy mess. But lately my opinion of this group of plants has changed. 

Posted in Southern Gardening TV | Leave a comment

Southern Gardening for November 10, 2014 – Random garden questions keep gardening interesting

http://msucares.com/news/print/sgnews/sg14/sg20141110.html

Through the year, I get quite a few questions concerning landscape issues, plant care and plant identification. Answering questions and helping home gardeners find success in their gardening endeavors is fun.

I’ve gotten questions from as far away as California. I have to admit that some of the questions make me think I’m on a game show called “Stump Gary,” and I learn a thing or two researching the answers. This question and answer time feels kind of like two gardeners sharing landscape tips across the back fence.

Here are a couple of questions I’ve recently received:

Q: Hey Gary, lately while driving, I’ve noticed these plants that are loaded with bright purple berries. What are these and where can I get one? Becky

This is an image of beautyberry.
American Beautyberry is a fall-blooming plant commonly seen in the wild growing at the edges of wooded areas all across Mississippi and the Southeast. It produces clusters of bright purple berries. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

A: Becky, you’ve been noticing one of my absolute favorite native Mississippi plants, the American beautyberry. This plant is commonly seen in the wild growing at the edges of wooded areas all across Mississippi. In fact, this plant is enjoyed all across the Southeast and mid-Atlantic regions.

As you’ve seen, its clusters of bright purple berries put on quite a show. Despite its native status, American beautyberry is quite at home in the landscape.
This plant is one of those great native deciduous plants that have three seasons of interest. In the spring, it has small, pink flowers. Summer brings rich, green foliage that is a good background for summer color, and in the fall, it has purple berries and colorful foliage. The purple berries appear to have a metallic quality when the sunlight reflects off them. Quite often, the berries can persist well into the winter season. Contact your local garden center for availability.

Q: Gary, earlier in the summer you wrote an article about a tree you recommended to plant in south Mississippi that has colorful, purple flowers, is small in height and is drought tolerant. Can you tell me the name of that tree and a nursery in this area that might have it? Thanks, Jackie

This is an image of a beautiful purple flower called Vitex.
Beautiful purple flowers and tolerance for drought make Vitex an outstanding small tree to be grown in the full sun of Mississippi landscapes. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

A: Jackie, I know exactly what small tree you are asking about. The vitex is another of my favorite landscape plants. Vitex tolerates hot and humid Mississippi weather extremely well, which makes this an outstanding small tree for our landscapes. It is also a good choice for the droughty periods we typically have each summer.

Plant the vitex in partial shade to full sun for best flowering performance. While it tolerates a wide variety of soil conditions and textures, make sure the planting bed is well-drained.

Vitex also tolerates a wide range of pruning styles and can be maintained easily as an 8- to 10-foot-tall small tree. Pruning actually promotes more compact branching, which results in a thicker, bushier plant. Since vitex flowers on the current season’s growth, pruning actually encourages and enhances flowering.

Last year, a friend of mine pruned his vitex close to the ground. The plant started growing back in the spring and now is a beautiful, 3-foot-tall vitex bush. If left alone, vitex can grow up to 20 feet tall and wide. As for where to get this amazing plant, you should check with your favorite local garden center for availability.

So, if you have any gardening or landscape questions you’ve always wondered about, don’t hesitate to ask me. Send them to gbachman@ext.msstate.edu, and I’ll try to help.

Posted in Southern Gardening Columns | Leave a comment

Southern Gardening TV for November 9, 2014 – Sunflowers

I consider sunflowers the royalty of sunny summer and fall gardens that attract all kinds of wildlife, from butterflies and bees, to the occasional hungry gardener.

Posted in Southern Gardening TV | Leave a comment

Southern Gardening for November 3, 2014 – Ornamental cabbage, kale give winter color

http://msucares.com/news/print/sgnews/sg14/sg20141103.html

This weekend, the thermometer in my garden got down to the low 30s and left me wondering if I’ve seen the last of my tomatoes and peppers. But it also reminded me that it’s time to transition to plants that thrive in lower temperatures.

Ornamental kale is one of my favorites for the cool season. There are so many different colors and leaf textures to add landscape interest. Don’t plant a single type. Mix and match for increased visual interest.

Ornamental kale plants are mostly green when first transplanted, but they begin to display colorful foliage as colder weather set in.

At garden centers, you will find ornamental kale and cabbage lumped together, which isn’t that much of a surprise since they are the same species, Brassica oleracea. Ornamental cabbage usually refers to selections that have smooth and more or less unruffled leaves. Kale, on the other hand, has ruffled, textured leaves, and many have feathered leaf edges. In my opinion, these features make ornamental kale much more interesting in the winter landscapes.

Although there are lots of great selections of ornamental kale, many garden centers won’t have them all. There has been a shortage of kale seed for growers, so you might have to shop around.

I like the red-colored selections, and a favorite is the Nagoya series of kale. This variety has uniform growth and attractive fringed leaves in red, rose and white.

Red Chidori kale is another good selection that forms loose heads that are extremely colorful. New foliage is a bright magenta-red that matures to a darker green with veins that maintain their magenta-red color.

Redbor kale is an outstanding choice that was named a Mississippi Medallion Fall winner in 2006. The frilly leaf color is a solid purple-red that intensifies as temperatures get lower during the winter. Redbor is also a long-lived plant; I’ve seen this plant still looking good in July and August in south Mississippi.

Good soil drainage is a must for growing kale and cabbage. I use raised beds for my in-ground ornamental plantings. Add composted organic matter at planting to increase drainage, but make sure the soil does not dry out. I really like growing these plants in containers because the excellent potting material available means I never have to worry about the plants having wet feet.

Everyone knows about droughts during the hot summer months, but it can happen in the winter, too. Cold fronts are often relatively dry, and the soil moisture can deplete rapidly. Kale likes consistent soil moisture, so apply a layer of mulch to help conserve soil moisture.

For best growth, don’t neglect fertilizer. Ornamental cabbage and kale are actually fairly heavy feeders. I like to add a tablespoon of a good, slow-release fertilizer into each planting hole to get the plants off to a great start. I use water-soluble fertilizer on a monthly schedule to keep the plants healthy and growing strong.

Don’t forget that ornamental kale is edible. The bright colors of these leaves can add pizazz to fresh salad or stir-fry.

Many Mississippi gardeners like to cut kale into squares and make kale chips as a snack. In the Bachman household, we grow the Nagoya ornamental kale because it is already chip-shaped. To prepare, mix with a little extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt and then bake at 240 degrees for about 45 minutes.

When growing ornamental kale and cabbage for snacks, consider starting your own from seed so you can control the plants’ environment. If this sounds like a tasty idea, it’s not too late in the season to get growing.

Posted in Southern Gardening Columns | Leave a comment

Southern Gardening TV for November 3, 2014 – Early Fall Flowers

After a hot summer I always feel more refreshed with the cooler fall temperatures. Some of our summer flowering plants feel the same way too.

Posted in Southern Gardening TV | Leave a comment

Southern Gardening for October 26, 2014 – Top plants earn the 2015 Mississippi Medallions

http://msucares.com/news/print/sgnews/sg14/sg20141027.html

Many Southerners (in general) and Mississippians (in particular) base their new plant selections on the annual recommendations from the Mississippi Medallion Selection Committee. The committee has just announced three winners for 2015: Delta Jazz crape myrtle, Suburban Nancy Gayle daylily and Top Pot scaevola.

CRAPE MYRTLE -- 2015 Mississippi Medallion winner Delta Jazz crape myrtle, developed by Mississippi State University, has leaves that emerge a raspberry-maroon and then turn mahogany-brown, accenting large clusters of pink flowers in late summer. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)
2015 Mississippi Medallion winner Delta Jazz crape myrtle, developed by Mississippi State University, has leaves that emerge a raspberry-maroon and then turn mahogany-brown, accenting large clusters of pink flowers in late summer. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

Delta Jazz crape myrtle…

Delta Jazz is a new crape myrtle that was developed at Mississippi State University. It has unusual foliage that emerges a rich, raspberry-maroon color and then matures into a dark-mahogany brown. This foliage color accents clusters of medium-pink flowers in the late summer.

These spectacular flowers are actually large panicles composed of many small flowers. The panicles can be more than 8 inches long. Delta Jazz’s small flowers have a crinkled edge resembling crepe paper, hence the common name.

Crape myrtles have other outstanding qualities. As the tree matures, the bark begins to peel or exfoliate, revealing inner bark colors that range from gray-green to dark cinnamon-red. Delta Jazz makes a fantastic landscape feature plant.

SCAEVOLA -- Top Pot scaevola is an herbaceous flowering plant that earned a 2015 Mississippi Medallion award. Its flowers are violet-blue, pink or white with yellow throats. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

Top Pot scaevola is an herbaceous flowering plant that earned a 2015 Mississippi Medallion award. Its flowers are violet-blue, pink or white with yellow throats. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

Top Pot scaevola …

Top Pot scaevola is an herbaceous flowering plant with a sprawling growth habit that spreads out to 2 feet in diameter. Its foliage has the appearance of being succulent, with coarse-toothed margins. The 1-inch-wide, fan-shaped flowers appear in mass and flower freely from spring through summer and most of fall with violet-blue, pink or white petal lobes and yellow throats. Scaevola flowers until freezing weather hits.

Scaevola is surprisingly tolerant of lower temperatures compared with many of our other flowering landscape plants. Trials have shown these plants tolerate light frosts and even overnight temperatures down to freezing. The best garden use of these plants in Mississippi is as annual color plants.

Plant them in full to part sun and in a good, well-drained soil. Scaevola does not like wet feet, and the root system will be constricted in heavy clay soils. If you are going to plant in landscape beds with heavy soil, work 3 to 4 inches of compost into the soil before planting. This plant is a great choice for its compact, mounding growth habit. It is a great choice for the landscape bed, but in my opinion, the freely branching growth habit and trailing growth make this the perfect choice for hanging baskets and container gardening.

DAYLILY -- Suburban Nancy Gayle daylily, one of three 2015 Mississippi Medallion award winners, produces incredibly large, red flowers with yellow throats. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

Suburban Nancy Gayle daylily, one of three 2015 Mississippi Medallion award winners, produces incredibly large, red flowers with yellow throats. (Photo by MSU Extension Service/Gary Bachman)

Suburban Nancy Gayle daylily…

Suburban Nancy Gayle daylily, an outstanding plant for all of our Mississippi gardens and landscapes, was developed at Suburban Daylilies in Hattiesburg. This has big (and I mean big) red flowers with yellow throats. The flowers are bigger in diameter than my hand. These plants have been growing in trial beds across Mississippi and are very impressive with their flowering performance. These plants have flowered from mid-May until August the past couple of years.

The Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association established the Mississippi Medallion program in 1996 to increase awareness of plant materials and to promote sales and production of ornamental plants in the state. Compared with national campaigns, such as All-American Selections and Perennial Plant of the Year, the Mississippi Medallion program focuses on plants adapted to the environment in Mississippi to benefit both consumers and the green industry.

For information on past Mississippi Medallion winners, go to http://www.msucares.com.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Gary Bachman is an associate Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also the host of the popular Southern Gardening television and radio programs. Locate Southern Gardening products online at http://msucares.com/news/.]

Posted in Southern Gardening Columns | Leave a comment