Stewartia malacodendron and More at Little Cow Creek

Tuesday May 8th was incredible for exploring the wilds of east Texas.  My herbaceous plants class joined Peter Loos to see rare and unusual plants near Lake Sam Rayburn.

Students listen to Peter Loos talk about his plant explorations at Little Cow Creek.

Students listen to Peter Loos talk about his plant explorations at Little Cow Creek.

One target species for the day was Stewartia malacodendron near Little Cow Creek, a refugia that allows this Theaceae member’s survival in Texas.  We found the plant in peak bloom, the bright solitary flowers glowing on the forest edge only a short distance from the stream.   Closer inspection revealed dark purple stamens resting at the center of a white platter of petals.  The forms we saw were shorter and more shrub-like than most Stewartia I’ve encountered.  On one plant the branches were almost hugging the ground.  It deserves to be planted more.  I collected some cuttings in the hope of encouraging that.  Peter mentioned they were difficult to root, but some colleagues shared some practices with me that might enhance the propagules’ survival.  

Here I’m shooting down at this hanging branch on  Stewartia malacodendron .

Here I’m shooting down at this hanging branch on Stewartia malacodendron.

A close up of the delicate flowers of  Stewartia malacodendron . Notice the maroon filaments of the stamens.

A close up of the delicate flowers of Stewartia malacodendron. Notice the maroon filaments of the stamens.

The ruffled petal edges on  Stewartia malacodendron .

The ruffled petal edges on Stewartia malacodendron.

We saw other unique woodies at this location.  Right next to the Stewartia was a Hamamelis vernalis with good maroon coloration in the emerging foliage and a healthy stand of fruit on the old growth.  

 
The red-colored pigments in the emerging foliage on this  Hamamelis vernalis  likely provide protection from sunlight.

The red-colored pigments in the emerging foliage on this Hamamelis vernalis likely provide protection from sunlight.

 

A new tree to me was Crataegus marshallii (parsley-leaf hawthorn), which resembled a small-leaved Acer palmatum with the dissection and red petioles.  

The leaves of  Crataegus marshallii  look like little Christmas trees!

The leaves of Crataegus marshallii look like little Christmas trees!

And, we found a nice stand of Rhus trilobata, an excellent native groundcover.

Students contemplate trusting Peter and me that this is actually three-leaf sumac ( Rhus trilobata ) and not poison ivy!

Students contemplate trusting Peter and me that this is actually three-leaf sumac (Rhus trilobata) and not poison ivy!

On the herbaceous side (since this was an herbaceous plants class trip), I marked a plant off my wish list for seeing in the wild—Trillium ludovicianum!  I adore Trillium and miss growing them and seeing them from haunts back east.  This species is one that makes it far enough west.  I was amazed to see the sandy soil it was growing in!  I always imagined this species growing in cool, moist ravines here in east Texas, and here it was growing on a ridge of sand just a few feet short of missing the road grader’s blade!  Trillium ludovicianum appears similar to Trillium gracile with speckled leaves, but it has a more clump forming habit.  

Trillium ludovicianum  a bit past prime bloom but a spectacular find!

Trillium ludovicianum a bit past prime bloom but a spectacular find!

Another plant that I was happy to see was a species of pussytoes called Antennaria parlinii because I’ve been searching for good matrix species for the south.  It grew in an open spot under small trees, again in sandy soil.  Most Antennaria are good groundcovers, and while there was space between plants, perhaps with some encouragement the foliage would knit together.  

2019-0507-014 Antennaria parlinii-LRPS.jpeg

Before we left, we made a brief trip down to the stream to see a western population of Itea virginica and a disjunct population of Xanthorhiza simplicissima.   I’m was thrilled that Peter introduced us to this unique habitat where species that occur in abundance further east still find a home.  

Part two of the trip coming soon.

A Cool-colored Planting

I’ve been inspired by the cool-colored wildflowers of Texas to create a plant community that celebrates their cheerful energy.  Living here for the past few years I’ve noticed this side of the color wheel tends to dominant the showier flowers and is likely a result of co-evolution with the pollinators present.

While I’m still a year or two away from having a full month-by-month list, I thought I would share a snapshot of an early trial bed of this color palette.   In a crescent-shaped planting near our drive way I’ve been plugging blues, mulberrys, fuschias, pinks, and whites in to see how they grow and mingle together. And, now that’s it’s looking particularly good, I wanted to share a snapshot of the flora with you.

This scene greets me every morning as I walk to my edible garden.

This scene greets me every morning as I walk to my edible garden.

The dominant emergent is Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus scattered in the bed.  The fuschia-colored flowers radiate from a distance, and the north-facing slope creates a tiered theater effect so I see the audience of scapes from a distance in my veg patch.  More sparse in the bed are two penstemon—Penstemon tenuis and Penstemon laxiflorus.  The former has small, funnel-shapel purple flowers with ruffled edges that remind me of those old glass lampshades, and the later has blooms that are a pale pink and a bit flatter and longer.  A few Phlox pilosa in the bed still in the midst of bloom, and I’ve been watching them for seed to sow next year for more of this seasonal filler.

A few blues are scattered about.  The Sisyrinchium are pretty much finished, but their absence is now being filled by Prunella vulgaris.  It’s a nice native herb that has flowers which can’t decide if they are blue or purple.  And, I can’t forget the Tradescantia in flower.  Every morning, I smile seeing their brilliant blue flowers open. 

White flowers serve as good neutral colors in the mix.  A few Hymenopappus artemisiifolius plants are blooming with Astrantia-like blossoms.  I also adore the couple of Baptisia alba in the bed.  The stems have a dark purple color that continues my cool-colored theme.  And, Achillea millefolium is beginning to carpet the ground to provide an effective groundcover. It’s white landing pads add a nice splash of brightness to the bed.

As the color scheme evolves, I’ll share more about what’s of interest.

A Cruel April Fools' Joke

Mother Nature played a cruel April Fools’ joke on me.  The forecasted low last night was 38°F.  The actual temperature recorded was 29°F.  

Whoa, what a drop!  I even checked last night around 9 pm before bed and saw that there was a freeze warning out for most of Arkansas and half of Mississippi and Alabama.  “Poor souls,” I thought.  

This morning, I about flipped when I saw 29°F as the low.  We had just planted over 140 tomatoes in our campus garden on Friday.  Would they be dead?! 

When I arrived at school, I rushed to check on them.  A few showed slight water-soaking, but the majority of them looked ok!  Whew! It’s marvelous having the garden on a hill with the ag building to the north to offer some frost protection.  Today, students covered them with row covers.

Water-soaked leaves on one of the tomatoes that didn’t fare well after the sudden temperature drop.

Water-soaked leaves on one of the tomatoes that didn’t fare well after the sudden temperature drop.

At home I didn’t fare so well.  Baby basil plants were burned this morning, and my potatoes were turning black when I got home later in the day.  I actually had the forethought to cover my tomatoes at home a day early for the 32–34°F they forecasted for tonight.  That protection likely saved them.  

Tomatoes are one crop gardeners try to protect as we play tug-of-war with the weather.  Early enough to be the first to have them but late enough so they don’t freeze.  With last night I realized my mindset on starting tomatoes has changed after moving to Texas. 

My cautious rule back home was to never plant tomatoes before May 1.  Since I like to grow my own plants, seedlings started around March 15 would have enough time to develop regardless of a warm or cool spring.  Our average last frost was April 20 in northwest Tennessee, and the delay would ensure my plants weren’t hindered by the cold weather.  Even though they were planted later, many years I would have tomatoes by the 4th of July and beat other growers in the area to have the first ripe fruit.  

But, living in Texas my focus is to plant my tomatoes ASAP because we get hot so quickly.  Pollination shuts down above 90°F.

However, I’ve learned my lesson with this experience.  Thanks to an idea from Lindsey Kerr I have strung lights under the floating row cover and topped that with tarps and blankets to protect the tomatoes.  Never again will I plant a tomato before April 1.  I’m not joking.  

Frost protection with lights. I have to admit with this cover and light effect I’m getting decorating ideas for next Christmas…

Frost protection with lights. I have to admit with this cover and light effect I’m getting decorating ideas for next Christmas…

The Landscape Olympics

Last week, I was in Ft. Collins, Colorado with a team of six students participating in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition.  It may surprise you that there’s actually a competition for students to practice around 30 different horticulture skills including hardscaping, bench building, and driving a skid steer.  I know it did me when I first heard of it years ago, and surprise is usually the reaction I get when I tell people outside of horticulture where we go.  

This opportunity is an incredible chance for students to really spread their roots into the green industry.  The competitions require undergrads to practice skills before they arrive, and the career fair challenges them to engage with industry leaders.  As a professor, it’s inspiring to see so many different companies present and willing to help students.  I believe that it’s one of the best events for students to attend.  

Oh, and I guess you want to know if we won anything!  Anna Claire won best student for the social media competition, I won the faculty social media award, and the school won the overall social media award.  In all it was $2000 cash, $500 in Permaloc edging, and $500 in Corona tools.  

Below are some pictures I took from the event.  If you aren’t familiar with the competition, check it out and consider helping a local team in your area!  Sam Hill Tree Care, Benchmark Landscapes, and Yellowstone Landscape supported our team and allowed us to do more at the competition.

 
Hardscape installation! Our team qualified for the first time this year. In this contest, students have 1 hour and 50 minutes to install a patio.

Hardscape installation! Our team qualified for the first time this year. In this contest, students have 1 hour and 50 minutes to install a patio.

There’s also arboriculture where students can show off their climbing skills.

There’s also arboriculture where students can show off their climbing skills.

The last contest of the event is landscape installation teams of three have two hours to install a planting to spec.

The last contest of the event is landscape installation teams of three have two hours to install a planting to spec.

And, here we are on stage winning the social media contest! If you want to see more pics from the competition, check out our    @sfahorticulture    Instagram page.

And, here we are on stage winning the social media contest! If you want to see more pics from the competition, check out our @sfahorticulture Instagram page.

 

Beauty in the Spring

“I’m probably the only person in Texas doing this.  Well, let’s be honest, Jared.  Probably the whole US.”

I chuckled talking to myself as my shovel loosened the eighth clump of spring beauty from a bed in my vegetable patch.  With a sunny afternoon and the return of warmer temperatures, the flowers were beginning to explode and made finding them easier.  I stood up with the transplant, paused to pull off any weeds that still had purchase in the loosened soil, and reached underneath to check and make sure the corm was there and intact.  It was.  

I smiled thinking about someone else moving this plant because who would waste their time relocating these little guys?  Spring beauty by itself isn’t super showy.  The flowers are maybe the size of a dime, and they are finicky opening and closing with the day or rainy weather conditions.  However, looking up at my yard I was reminded why my fingers were coated in the warming winter muck; drifts of pale pink flowers wafted in the breeze.  And, I couldn’t stand the thought of harming any of them, even if this area was where I would be cultivating vegetables.

Claytonia virginica  in full bloom gives the appearance of snow. I had plugged some  Narcissus  in this area earlier this fall, but I plan to relocate them. The yellow is too saturated for the pink tint of spring beauty.

Claytonia virginica in full bloom gives the appearance of snow. I had plugged some Narcissus in this area earlier this fall, but I plan to relocate them. The yellow is too saturated for the pink tint of spring beauty.

I have adored spring beauty since I first observed it growing in someone’s yard down the road from our house in Tennessee.  I was amazed at this tiny white bloom that abundantly covered their entire front lawn every spring.  Why couldn’t our homeplace look like that?  I didn’t know the plant at first. I kept wanting to stop and look at it more closely to ascertain its identity, but soon I found it growing in a nearby woods and collected a few to take back to my garden.  I had turned an interesting-looking stranger into a friend by finally meeting Claytonia virginica.  

If you drove by recently and saw me laying on the ground, this photograph was why.

If you drove by recently and saw me laying on the ground, this photograph was why.

The few I transplanted those many years ago don’t even begin to compare with the thousands that now grow in my Texas yard.  I didn’t know they were here when I chose this location for the edible patch, hence my moving them now to a bed that needs more early spring color and vegetation.  I didn’t even know they were here at all when we bought the house in August 18 months ago!  But, when the first frost erased the turf’s chlorophyll and created a mosaic of tans, thin strips of purple foliage caught my eye.  The Claytonia was slathering on some anthocyanins for winter sunscreen.  And, as the winter unfolded into spring, I would see it was everywhere as it came into full bloom.  

In Tennessee this species became my herald of spring and a sign of warmer days to come.  But, here in Texas I have caught it blooming even before the onset of winter.  In 2017 I noted the first bloom on 05 December, and this past year, I caught two separate plants flowering just shy of the solstice on the 16 of December.  As an ephemeral, it must use its 15 minutes on stage wisely to grow, flower and set seed, and store energy before the canopy closes.  After that, the plant vanishes until the show returns next year.  Therefore, it makes sense that through natural selection it start performing as early as it can.  

I’ve learned much about spring beauty in recent years both digging in the soil and the literature.  There is a single corm from which the flowers and foliage arises.  Some sources will label it a bulb or a tuber, but from what I’ve deduced a corm more accurately reflects the circular storage organ.  The flowers grow out and then up from the mature corm, which gives the appearance of the shoots arising in a circle while the foliage tends to emerge straight upwards.  So, if you decide to move some from the lawn, take care not to slice through the shoots.  I like to sink the shovel in the soil on the outside of a clump and lift.  Then, I take care to settle the plant back in to the same depth.  

A single clump of  Claytonia virginica  nestled into its new home.

A single clump of Claytonia virginica nestled into its new home.

I have often thought of spring beauty as the deep south’s alternative for Galanthus.  We have a sparse selection of geophytes due to our lack of chilling.  Yes, the flowers are smaller, but their bloom time lasts longer than snowdrops due to a dozen of flowers on one raceme.  Claytonia virginica also has color variation within a population. You will likely see white-flowering and dark-pink-flowering plants in the same area with color morphs along that gradient. Research done in 2004 sheds light on why. Pollinators prefer dark-pink-colored flowers; thus, with natural selection you would expect to see the population flower color get darker and darker pink over time. If pollinators prefer a color, that usually means more pollination, more seed set, and more individuals expressing that trait in the population. However, the white flowers get their coloration from compounds like quercetin and kaempferol. These molecules protect the plant from herbivory and fungal infection. It’s a really fascinating look at different selection pressures maintaining variation in a population. One plant I moved had darker pink flowers has some rust-like disease on the leaves. Maybe this research explains why!

And speaking of pollinators, since spring beauty blooms so early, it makes a good model species for studying early spring behavior of bugs.  One paper I read demonstrated that 22 species of insects visited the flowers over a two-year observation period.  Filaments (the structures supporting the pollen-loaded stamens) that reflect UV light no doubt light up the runway for our antennaed friends.  Humans used to depend on them, too. A student once taught me that Native Americans once dug them and ate them. 

Claytonia virginica  can have different colored blooms in the same population. Here, you see white and pink flowers. Also, notice how pink the stamens are (the five rice-shaped structures near the center of the flower).

Claytonia virginica can have different colored blooms in the same population. Here, you see white and pink flowers. Also, notice how pink the stamens are (the five rice-shaped structures near the center of the flower).

It’s been a few weeks since I transplanted the Claytonia, and they are settling in nicely.   I enjoy walking out the door and seeing them a stones throw away.  With spring on the rise, other tasks call for me in the garden, but know that next year when they emerge again, I’ll find loners that need to be relocated from cultivated beds to less disturbed and more permanent plantings.  One day my garden beds will look look a little less barren and like the lawn will be dusted with this spring beauty, too.

Pin the Plant on the Triangle

This semester, one of the classes I’m teaching is herbaceous plants, and I’m taking the class beyond the usual discussions of annuals and perennials.  From studying herbaceous plant communities, one of the most useful concepts that I’ve learned in recent years is the classification of a plant’s survival strategies.  

I’ve written about it before here and here.  As a refresher, Grime pitched that plants had three strategies based on environmental factors.  

  • COMPETITORS are plants that take advantages of any and all resources they can muster.  They grow tall and wide to take out the competition.  Usually these stalwarts are perennial in nature, and they grow where stress and disturbance are nil.

  • STRESS-TOLERATORS are plants that have adaptations to ensure survival when stress arises and conditions deteriorate.  They are usually perennial and can take many years to flower from seed.

  • RUDERALS are short-lived annuals or biennials that are frequently exposed to some type of disturbance, which has selected for plants that quickly produce seed.

Usually, this strategy is visualized using a triangle (much like the soil texture triangle!) where a certain species can be shown to be—pulling some numbers out of the air—say, 70% competitor, 20% ruderal, and 10% stress tolerator based on the characteristics they exhibit.  

A figure of Grime’s triangle from    Pierre et al. (2017) titled A global method for calculating plant CSR ecological strategies applied across biomes world-wide   . As you can see the authors attempted to classify plants across the globe based on their tendency to be a competitor, stress-tolerator, or ruderal.

A figure of Grime’s triangle from Pierre et al. (2017) titled A global method for calculating plant CSR ecological strategies applied across biomes world-wide. As you can see the authors attempted to classify plants across the globe based on their tendency to be a competitor, stress-tolerator, or ruderal.

How do you take this concept from theory to application for students? Much research and data collection is needed to be able to precisely place a plant on the triangle.  Can it be done in a more simple fashion?  

After we covered the CSR theory in class, I did an activity with students.  I gave small groups (three to four) a list of seven different herbaceous plants and asked them to look up information and pictures online and try to determine where on Grime’s triangle it would fit.  I drew a triangle on the board labeling the sides and gave them markers and half sheets of paper for writing plant names.  

I then challenged them in pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey fashion (no blindfolds or sharp objects though!) to figure out where on the triangle the species would go by searching for it online.  Students looked for tendencies to spread, cover large areas, form large clumps, and/or have rhizomes (COMPETITOR); tendencies to produce copious amounts of seed, occur in areas of disturbance, and/or be short lived (RUDERAL); and tendencies to live in a stressful habitat, take a long time to flower, and/or have storage organs (STRESS-TOLERATOR).

One by one they started coming up and making educated guesses.  I stood by the triangle to offer advice and suggestions.  Some hit the nail on the head while others needed a little bit of coaxing to the right place.  

At the end, we went over the 20 or so species I provided as a challenge.  Again, I explained that while some species neatly fit into one group, some straddle the fence like Liatris elegans.  It has a corm (a stem-derived storage organ indicating some level of stress toleration) yet produces copious amounts of seed (traits of a ruderal).  

Pin the plant on the triangle—a fun game to teach students about plant survival strategies. Based on your plant knowledge, how do you think they did?

Pin the plant on the triangle—a fun game to teach students about plant survival strategies. Based on your plant knowledge, how do you think they did?

As gardeners it’s very helpful to think about flora in this way.  It helps us anticipate how plants will perform.  It explains why Gaillardia and Aquilegia don’t live long as perennials (ruderals), why Mentha and Monarda spread like crazy (competitors), and why Trillium and Narcissus  take 3–7 years to flower from seed (stress-tolerators).   It also allows us to envision how to combine plants.  Maybe put that runaway competitor in a drier spot to keep it from taking over creation?  Or, sow some ruderals in between the stress-tolerators to keep weeds down.  

If students can decide approximately which section of the triangle plants fit in during a 15 minute activity using search engines, then we can by watching how plants grow over the course of a year. 

So, that’s your homework for the season. Draw a triangle and see if you can’t plot where the species in your garden fit.

Chillin' for a Peach Fillin'

My first peach tree is flowering.  ‘Flordaking’—and, yes, there is not an i missing. The name gave me pause the first time, too—arrived last fall in a six-foot-long box. Upon opening said package, to my surprise a six-foot-tall Prunus persica was inside.  I guess that’s what happens when you buy a five-gallon tree.  

 
Present, past, and future flowers of ‘Flordaking’ peach

Present, past, and future flowers of ‘Flordaking’ peach

 

I sited it in our edible patch.  I had initially set aside this approximately 100 × 100 ft fenced area to be an orchard, but after mental iterations, it became clear after some damage from deer, boar, rabbits, and armadillos that the area would be better suited for more annual production since they were obliterated elsewhere.  I slated the back third edge-habitat area for fruit trees, and the rest of the front was for cut flowers and veggies.  

While I’m more of a nectarine person myself, Karen likes them; therefore, in the orchard a peach went.  The reason I chose ‘Flordaking’ is because of its low chill requirement.  In horticulture we talk about chilling hours as a measure for how much cold a plant must receive before it flowers, and while there are different approaches to calculate that number, let’s say that we count the hours under 45F.  

I teach students that a tree’s chill requirement is an alarm clock. It is a wonderful adaptation that some temperate trees have to the extreme stress of being exposed to cold temperatures in the winter.  Just like some people need 6 hours of rest and others need 8 (…or 10), some peaches need a few hundred hours down south while others further north require 1000 hours.  

Chilling causes sugar levels in the trees to increase and hormone levels to change.  The tree must be exposed to a certain amount of chilling to be able to flower.  If not enough chilling is perceived, then the plant can’t flower because enough metabolic changes haven’t occurred yet.  The alarm clock hasn’t gone off and the tree can’t wake up.  In fact, planting a high chill requirement tree in the south where we have warm winters every so often may result in the plant being extremely delayed in growth.  

‘Flordaking’ is estimated to need about 400 hours of cold.  Released by the University of Florida in 1978, it’s touted to be one of the best varieties for us to plant in zone 8.  

 
A honeybee dusted with pollen. For fun, notice how the stamens (filament structures) change from orange in a new flower opening to yellow where they are shedding pollen.

A honeybee dusted with pollen. For fun, notice how the stamens (filament structures) change from orange in a new flower opening to yellow where they are shedding pollen.

 

The appearance of petals in recent weeks indicated that the snooze wasn’t pushed. Instead, the tree is rising and shining. It is pure delight to watch the petals unfurl.  The other afternoon I stood and watched a bee work the sparse flowers on the little tree in the waning light.  It wasn’t very skittish and allowed me to get close and observe it swimming in the stamens to get the nectar at the center. While peaches are self-fertile and one tree will produce fruit, I’m going to add another one or two to the patch for some diversity.  

This list has been helpful picking some low chill varieties for our garden.  Maybe it’ll help you, too.  

Sowing Perennial Seeds

With the arrival of February and warmer temperatures, I've been sowing seeds in earnest this week, perennials in particular.  Seeds purchased or collected last year have the chance to sprout.  My goal is to get them started for easy propagation in years to come for planting prairies here at the house.  

Two species that I've had stratifying—a cool moist period to enhance germination in some species—in the refrigerator are Asclepias tuberosa 'Wild Orange' and Echinacea sanguinea.  I've checked on them weekly in the little baggies by opening the moist paper towels and inspecting them.  It's a nice way to also introduce some fresh air in the sealed vessels since seeds need oxygen for germination.  For the Asclepias, I noticed swelling in the seeds and some rupturing of the seed coat, a clear indication they were ready for planting.  The Echinacea seed held onto their dingy off-white color while the other detritus from the seed head turned black.  

Plump  Asclepias tuberosa  seeds. Seed the tinge of light yellow? The seed coat has ruptured on one near the center.

Plump Asclepias tuberosa seeds. Seed the tinge of light yellow? The seed coat has ruptured on one near the center.

Echinacea sanguinea  seed were mixed in with parts of the flower head. I decided to stratify them together and pull the seeds out when sowing.

Echinacea sanguinea seed were mixed in with parts of the flower head. I decided to stratify them together and pull the seeds out when sowing.

These made their way into seed trays earlier this week.  With the Asclepias I was sure to sow the seeds in a tray deep enough (approximately 5–6 inches) to allow their roots to grow down.  Allen Bush shared with me that shallow trays can cause their demise because the root doesn't have enough room to grow down.  

Along with the seeds that have been chilling in the fridge, I also scarified some seed this week and allowed them to soak for a couple of nights to prep for planting.  Scarification damages the seed coat and allows water to enter.

Last August, I collected some Baptisia sphaerocarpa seed from a location I saw it blooming several years prior.  Fingernail clippers make quick work breaking the seed coat on a few seeds.  

A few roots began to appear on  Baptisia sphaerocarpa .

A few roots began to appear on Baptisia sphaerocarpa.

Another species that I scarified was Amsonia tabernaemontana.  The seed came from my dad.  Years ago, I found an Amsonia blooming on the roadside near home.  The fear that it would succumb to the mower or herbicide like I had witnessed happen to many other plants inspired me to relocate the clump to our yard.  It settled in nicely and started producing seed.  A year or two ago, I asked my dad to collect any fruit he saw, and that Christmas I returned home to find the baggie on the windowsill.  Now that I have a house of my own, I felt it time to try growing the northern provenance here.  The germination requirements were unknown to me; however, from a quick google search, I discovered researchers at UGA demonstrated that clipping the end of the seed would allow moisture in to kickstart the germination process.  

Amsonia tabernaemontana  seedlings emerged from an intriguing cigar-shaped seed. With the embryos popping out, they look like    sea tube worms   .

Amsonia tabernaemontana seedlings emerged from an intriguing cigar-shaped seed. With the embryos popping out, they look like sea tube worms.

Today the seeds are in the garage instead of their cold frame.  The forecast showed below freezing last night, and I didn't want to take any chances since I've worked hard to get them all started.  Here’s to hoping they all germinate!




An Auger, The Best Purchase of 2018

One of the best purchases I made last year was an auger that I could attach to a cordless drill, a thought that hit me as I was dividing abandoned ‘Grand Primo’ Narcissus I discovered on an abandoned backroad.  Two clumps became 107 bulbs in a matter of minutes, and I wanted to get them in the ground as soon as possible. The auger and drill came out, and the task was completed in under an hour.

Narcissus tazetta  ‘Grand Primo’ is one of the few Narcissus that is very persistent in the deep south. Scapes are adorned with over half a dozen petticoat-shaped flowers. Note other attributes like bright orange pollen and the corona that fades from butter yellow to off-white over time.

Narcissus tazetta ‘Grand Primo’ is one of the few Narcissus that is very persistent in the deep south. Scapes are adorned with over half a dozen petticoat-shaped flowers. Note other attributes like bright orange pollen and the corona that fades from butter yellow to off-white over time.

The ingenious idea was from Thomas Rainer.  We both were presenting at the Speaking of Gardening event in Asheville two years ago, and he mentioned getting one for planting the deep-rooted landscape plugs.

Several months later, I remembered browsing Amazon one night to purchase the thing.  When it came, I tried it out, and I was immediately impressed.  As someone who suffers from carpal tunnel in my wrists, using a trowel over and over again leaves my hand in pain after planting.  Now, I hook the auger up to a cordless drill, zip zip zip, and I’m ready to plant 50 plugs! I find that even the three-inch pot size will easily fit into a shallow excavated hole.

We bought one for school, and the students immediately fell in love with it, too.  I also convinced my parents to get one for planting bulbs.  

The biggest problem I encounter using the auger is roots.  In plain soil, it will go down without a problem, but roots often cause it to jerk around or just stop.  Also, safety note:  I find it best to hold it with both hands.  If you’re concerned about it whipping on you, get one of the two-handled drills.  I would especially recommend that option if you use a corded drill.

I know many advise dividing  Narcissus  once dormant, but I’ve had success moving them in the green. In this image you can see the circular holes made by the auger and my attempts to get the bulbs to the same depth. After sticking them in the hole, I use a hoe to replace the soil back.

I know many advise dividing Narcissus once dormant, but I’ve had success moving them in the green. In this image you can see the circular holes made by the auger and my attempts to get the bulbs to the same depth. After sticking them in the hole, I use a hoe to replace the soil back.


Flaming Broomsedge Seed

A big reason I built a cold frame was to protect sown seeds from heavy rains and the critters that dig around in the seed flats.  So, now it’s time to get sowing!

One of my foci for 2019 are grasses.  Getting these started from seed and dividing already existing plump clumps will allow me to start planting groundcover species that will shade the soil much of the growing season.  I also like how at the beginning of the growing season when grasses are mown, they generate a nice mulch layer to keep weeds down.  

Last fall, I collected grass seed from up and down the roadside as well as in the garden here, and now I’m sowing Andropogon, Muhlenbergia, and Eragrostis.  

For Andropogon virginicus (broomsedge), seed actually benefit from a stratification treatment (exposing seed to cold and moist conditions); therefore, sowing them sooner rather than later will take advantage of the cold weather coming.  I collected some culms filled with seed and allowed them to dry in a brown paper bag on our back porch.

Then, I took a five gallon bucket and shook the seed loose in it.  Andropogon seed have hairs on the pedicel and rachis internode that allow them to catch a breeze and spread; such airborne packages are called diaspores (a seed and everything that aids dispersal).  These can be problematic when sowing a tray.  

I had heard Roy Diblik say that the plumes of Asclepias (milkweeds) could be removed with a flash fire.  With the seed in the bucket, I grabbed a lighter and lit the plumes on fire.  It quickly burned and left me with a pile of seed ready for planting.  Andropogon is fire adapted, and the flash burn probably didn’t damage any seed.  (NOTE:  As with anytime you are using fire, make sure you practice safety!)

I’ll update you in a few weeks to see how germination is progressing.