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Monday, April 30, 2012

My Visit To Growild Nursery in Fairview

It's not often that I am so impressed by a nursery that I feel compelled to write about them.  So many nurseries just do things the same way, the established way.  I know it works well but when a nursery steps it up a notch it REALLY works.  Growild Nursery in Fairview, Tennessee to me is an example of one nursery that steps it up!  Was it the plants that impressed me?  Definitely, but that wasn't all.  The service by the employees was great.  And it's more than just the demeanor of the employees, they knew their stuff!  They could tell me the habits of the trees, offer up examples of similar specimens that I might enjoy, and were simply a great horticultural resource.

Growild opens up to the public only a couple times a year.  The rest of the season they sell to landscape designers, contractors, and by appointments.  Their stock makes them unique in that they are one of only two major nurseries that specialize in native plants.  If you're looking for plants that are weather tolerant and grow in our rough soil conditions here in Tennessee then Growwild is the place to visit.  They would be an excellent resource for anyone wishing to restore lands that have been taken over by invasive plants like honeysuckle or privet. 

Of course I will have to admit I spent much more than I intended at Growild.  When they are only open twice a year you've got to right?  I went looking for a red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) which I'm thrilled to have planted in our garden over the weekend.  The red buckeye is a hummingbird magnet that blooms in the spring with stalks of red tubular flowers.  It's a small tree that over the year might reach 12-14 feet.  It likes partial shade but can take a few hours of hot afternoon sun.  We found a buckeye that actually had a few seeds still attacked to the old flower stalk so that we knew it was already old enough to flower.

I also have a fondness for viburnums and came home with two more for our garden.  I went looking for a 'Rusty Blackhaw' viburnum which comes highly recommend by Gail of Clay and Limestone.  At the recommendation of one of the Growwild employees I took a look at a Witherod viburnum and instantly knew it was coming home with me too!

'Rusty Blackhaw' viburnum (Viburnum rufidulum) is a larger viburnum that reaches 10-20 feet in height and has spectacular orange to red fall color.  It's now planted in the backyard where it and grow as tall as it likes.

Witherod viburnum (Viburnum nudum) is a smaller viburnum that tops out around 5'.  What made this viburnum stand out were its glossy leaves.  When a plant only blooms for a couple weeks a year its important for it to have another feature that helps it to stand out.  I planted our Witherod viburnum in one of our front yard gardens.  It has nice fall color too and produces berries that range from pink to blue.  The birds love viburnums! 

It was an exciting day for me and I think my family enjoyed the visit to Growild too.  My oldest daughter even got a mini harmonica lesson from one of the musicians who was there to entertain! If you didn't get to Growild this weekend they will open again in the fall for customers during their tree sale season.  If you've never been, it's worth the trip!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Vegetable Garden - End of April 2012 Update

It's been a while since I've written about our vegetable garden so I thought the end of April would be a good time for an update!  There are a few disappointments but overall most of the garden is right on track.  We've used raised beds for several years now but most of them have disintegrated.  I've replaced some with concrete retaining wall block stone which has a nice appearance and won't rot out!

Let's take a look around!

Just outside the vegetable garden we'll find cilantro already flowering with delicate white flowers.  Our warm weather has caused it to bolt but our cool snaps have started more seeds germinating.  We should be able to maintain a little cilantro in the garden for at least another month!

We were disappointed with our sugar snap peas this year.  I planted a lot of seed but only one plant is left now.  I suspect voles or rabbits are to blame but it's also due in part to old seed that just didn't germinate very well.

The potato patch is doing great!  We have 15-20 potato plants growing of three different kinds.  I use grass clippings as a mulch.  Each time I mow the lawn I add more grass to the base of the plants which encourages them to grow more potatoes down below.  It also keeps the soil moist when our rains are irregular.  We really need some kind of rain soon.

We have a nice crop of red romaine lettuce coming along.  I scatter sowed lettuce in this raised bed and it has done pretty well with no real maintenance.   I need to see if I can get another crop started before the weather gets really hot for the summer.

Of course one of the most delicious parts of the garden is the strawberry crop!  It's done pretty good this year.  I was afraid with the late frosts that we wouldn't have anything but we do have some delicious and sweet strawberries to pick! My strawberry bed needs reinvigorated so I'll fertilize after we harvest our strawberries.

I planted two types of melons and a row of bush beans this week in the garden but we don't have germination yet.  It won't be long though!  I still need to plant cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, basil, and many other crops in the garden.

How's your vegetable garden growing?

Friday, April 27, 2012

5 Tips to Grow Great Summer Squash!

Summer squash is one of our family's favorite summer vegetables.  A grilled yellow squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper is a simple and delicious treat when cooked along with some barbequed chicken!  There are a few things to know about growing summer squashes in the garden whether they are yellow squash or zucchinis.  Today's Friday Fives will offer up five things you should know about growing summer squash.  Enjoy!

5 Tips to Grow Great Summer Squash

  1. Squash is one of those vegetables that is easy to grow from seed.  You can buy transplants but try to purchase squash transplants that are in biodegradable pots so you don't have to disturb the roots systems much when planting.  Squash is easy to grow and if your soil is a good well drained mix it should do great in your garden!  If not consider bush type squash plants and plant them in pots.
  2. A few plants will go a long way!  Squash is a prolific producer as long as you continue picking from your plants.  Remember pick early and pick often!  Squash is ideally picked at no larger than 6 inches in length.  Any larger and you begin losing flavor.  The plant will also slow down production since it is moving energy into creating seeds and spending it on those monster squashes that are forming.  You will inevitably miss a few squashes from time to time and that won't hurt the overall production much, just remove them and let it resume! 
  3. The squash vine borer and squash bugs are the two biggest pests of squash plants.  Vine borers hatch from eggs laid at the base of the plant then burrow into the stems which cuts off the flow of nutrients and moisture to the rest of the plant.  If you see holes in the side of the stem and your plant is wilting vine borers are probably responsible. Once infected with vine borers there isn't much you can do.  Some people report that injections of Bt are effective although I have never tried it.  If you see signs of the borers begin planting new seeds or plants to continue production since they won't last a whole lot longer.  To prevent vine borers sprinkle diatemaceous earth on the stem. You will have to reapply after rains.  Squash bugs like to suck the juices from the plants which can introduce disease and take away moisture from the squash plants.  Companion plant some nasturtiums near your squash to repel them! 
  4. Squash can suffer from blossom end rot just like tomatoes and peppers.  It's a calcium deficiency so consider adding calcium to the soil through lime or bonemeal.  Watering with diluted whole milk may also do the trick.  I've noticed blossom end rot as a result of damage from squash vine borers so check the stems if you see blossom end rot to make sure you don't have the borers.  
  5. Summer squash blossoms are edible so consider adding them to salads or frying them up!  The flowers are either male or female which means you need both types to get a squash to form.  Plant two to increase your odds.  You will have a lot of squash coming your way so don't plant more than a couple plants at a time or you will risk being shunned by your neighbors each time you come to their door with another basket of zucchini!  Please consider donating the excess to local food pantries.  Do some research into recipes to make your squash produce as unique as possible - you're going to have a bunch!

We like squash grilled, as I said before, but frying it with onions is good too.  Zucchini bread is a common squash recipe for summer.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Propagating Creeping Thyme

Creeping thyme or Thymus serpyllum makes a great ground cover that is very easy to grow.  Once started it quickly grows and spread to fill out areas. It's also an extremely easy plant to propagate.  Why is propagating creeping thyme so easy?  Let's take a look!

I planted three small seedlings of creeping thyme a couple years ago and now it has grown into an evergreen carpet along our stepping stones.  Creeping thyme forms roots anywhere the stems touch a surface.  Essentially if the area is dark, roots will grow!  Even though our creeping thyme is resting on a stepping stone it still produces a copious amount of roots which makes an awesome opportunity to create more creeping thyme.  All I need to do is trim the area around the stepping stone then separate the rooted stems of thyme into individual pots or into new areas of the garden to cover.  This propagation process is known as layering.

You might be wondering why a groundcover like creeping thyme is useful?  Maybe you already know but we'll mention it anyway! Groundcovers are a living mulch.  In a garden anywhere light touches will help germinate a seed. You've heard the saying "Nature abhors a vacuum", by keeping the ground covered with a mulch of some kind will prevent weeds from getting what they need to sprout and eliminate any vacuums.  It also keeps the soil cooler in the hot summer.  Creeping thyme can tolerate the hot summers here in Tennessee very easily.  By placing it underneath and around shrubs it can help keep the moisture in the soil where it will work for the shrubs.  Without some type of mulch the water will quickly evaporate.  Creeping thyme has very shallow roots and doesn't need much water so planting it with other plants that use more water is a great idea. Creeping thyme would make an excellent groundcover for a formal herb garden.

Creeping thyme can take some light foot traffic which makes it a good ground cover for small pathways that are only used occasionally or stepping stone pathways.  You wouldn't want to plant it in a heavily used area.  Light traffic will help it too root even better as the occasional foot pressing the roots to the soil will just help the thyme get a better foot hold into the soil.

Do you have creeping thyme growing in your garden yet?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Powdery Mildew and How to Fix It!

This Sunday's weather was gorgeous.  A little cooler than we've been having but a great day to get out and get some big jobs done.  I spent much of the day mowing and preparing the vegetable garden then went around taking pictures of the gardens.  Things are coming along nicely but there was one issue I'm not too pleased about: powdery mildew!  I found the white powdery looking substance on my coral honeysuckle.  Mildew of course is brought on by warmth and wetness.  We've had both of those in good supply this spring.  Most of the time powdery mildew is a summer issue for us.

Treating Powdery Mildew

To treat my powdery mildew issues I'll be using neem oil and a baking soda solution.  I'll alternate the two on a weekly basis until the signs have diminished.  Neem oil is made from the neem tree and is a good organic solution to fungal issues and some pest issues.  For a baking soda solution mixing 2 TBS of horticultural oil with 1 TBS of baking soda and a gallon of water.  Sometimes adding a drop or two of liquid dish soap helps to mix the ingredients together.

Improving the air flow around the infected plant will also help with the powdery mildew problem.

Have you seen signs of early summer problems already popping up due to the strange weather this year? 

Friday, April 20, 2012

5 Things You Need to Know About Growing a Great Tomato!

Tomato planting season is almost here for Middle Tennessee so I thought now would be the perfect time to share some things you need to know about growing a great tomato!  Tomatoes have always been my favorite crop from the garden.  I like tomatoes fresh, cooked, preserved - it doesn't matter how - I like a GREAT Tomato! There are some tricks that will help you grow a great tomato and a few things to watch out for like pests and diseases.  Please enjoy today's Friday Five - all about tomatoes!

5 Things You Need to Know About Growing a Great Tomato!

  1. Let's start with the soil. Good well drained and moisture retentive soil is important for tomatoes.  Water logged soil will result in fungal diseases and poor growth. I highly recommend adding compost as it will improve drainage and moisture retention.  It also has beneficial bacterias that will aid the health of your plants!  One of the benefits to gardening in raised beds is the ability to improve your soil easily - or really to start with the good stuff!  If you garden in the ground tilling in or layering compost will improve your soil over time.
  2. Tomatoes like to be planted with as much of the stem under the soil as possible.  Tomatoes grow roots along the stem when planted this way which improves their water uptake ability!  Trust me, dry summers make this essential!  Just remove all the leaves except for the top 2 and plant the tomato plant either horizontally in a trench or (my favorite way) in a hole just deep enough for the stem and roots.
  3. Tomato vines need something to grow on, lean against, or hold it up!  They get heavy - especially so when the tomatoes themselves start to come.  Keeping tomatoes upright on a trellis or heavy gauge wire frame improves the airflow around the plant which will lower the risk of diseases. Heavy gauge cattle fence panels in an "A" frame work excellent for growing tomato vines.  Don't use the small "tomato cages" from the stores as these are usually insufficient to hold up the plants.  I've used wooden tomato stakes that work OK for holding up the plants but require the gardener to tie up the tomato plants frequently as they grow.
  4. Tomatoes have several common enemies like hornworms, stink bugs, white flies, nematodes, and lots of other insects.  Companion planting is one way to prevent them from showing up unannounced on your tomato plants!  Basil works great for repelling the hornworm and flies while marigolds prevent nematodes that grow in the soil.  The list of potential tomato pests is long and frequent monitoring of tomato plants is essential in getting the edge on them!
  5. Tomatoes suffer from a few diseases that can be prevented.  If you find a tomato with a blacked and rotting end where the blossom was originally formed you have blossom end rot.  Blossom end rot is very common and nothing to worry about.  It's caused by a calcium deficiency in the fruit that doesn't allow the cell walls to form properly.  The calcium deficiency can be cause by a water problem or a lack of calcium in the soil.  Often during planting gardeners will add a small amount of lime to the planting hole to help prevent blossom end rot.  Adding lime to the soil after the blossom end rot can help too.  Blight is the other major issue that gardeners run into on tomatoes.  Blight is caused by a fungus.  To prevent it water from below and make sure you have a good air flow around your plants.  A fungicidal soap may help once you have it to beat it back enough to still get some good tomatoes.  When the plant is done for get rid of the plant material - do not compost it in your compost bin as it can remain in your compost!  Plant your tomato plants in a different location next year to reduce the risk of re-contamination.  A good crop rotation plan is very beneficial!

I hope these tomato tips help you grow a delicious crop of juicy tomatoes this year!  I can't wait until that first one ripens up.  The ideal planting date for tomatoes here in Middle Tennessee is the first week of May so tomato planting time is coming soon! (I know, some of you already planted this year with the warm temperatures, just remember that this year was unusual and every year is different!)

Read Some More Friday Five Posts!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Iris Garden

In our front yard is a triangular shaped area that for now I'm calling the Iris Garden.  In a week or so after the irises finish blooming I'll have to change the name to something else but for now the Iris Garden works!  I actually began this garden area as a winter color garden but soon realized that winter color should be interspersed everywhere and shouldn't be all by itself.  So I redesigned the garden to be what it is now.  At different times of the year this garden provides different types of interest.

The Trees

On each point of the triangle design is a tree. The largest of which is a Yoshino cherry that provides some powerful spring color with its white a pinkish colored blooms.  Two small redbuds anchor the other points.  They were transplants from my in-laws property.  Redbuds are tricky to transplant but with some care ( and a long enough root) it can be done! (This is best done when dormant.) Eventually the trees will shade the triangle enabling the garden to be converted to a part shade to full shade garden area.  That will be a few years down the road.

The Irises

The current main feature of the garden is the river of irises that flow down from the top point of the triangle.  These irises were all given to me by my parents who had a bunch of these lavender purple colored bearded irises.  Now we have a ton too!  These are highly fragrant irises and you can imagine with as many irises as we have in this garden the scent can be strong!  We have other irises in other gardens but I felt that keeping the same color scheme in this garden would give the maximum impact.

The Perennials

There are a few other perennials in this bed along with the irises.  Pretty much all of the perennials fit into the purple color category with variations in shade and tint allowing for a cool color blend.  'Caradonna' salvia is right next to the irises and will eventually become a second river that will re-bloom periodically through the summer. 'Purple Homestead' verbena is a spectacular groundcover that is perfect for this garden.  It doesn't like being constantly wet over the winters which makes planting in our sloped front yard perfect for it.  In the summer two Russian sage plants will flower.  One on the right side and the other on the left.  Surrounding the Russian sage on the left will be several purple coneflowers that have grown each year from seed with mother nature's help!  (We just let the seed fall where it may!)

The Annuals - err... Annual ...kind of....

We have one annual that grace's this garden: California Poppy.  It's orange and has nothing in common with the rest of the garden's colors.  That's OK since sometimes a unique and unusual color mixed in a sea of similar colors can make the garden pop a little more.  Our California poppies self-sow freely.  The foliage is a beautiful silver color reminiscent of an artemisia like 'Powis Castle'. This poppy can survive mild enough winters but for us it's more of an annual. 

It won't be long before the irises are finished blooming and the dividing and transplanting time will be here.  Everything is happening much earlier this year than it has in past years!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

'Beni Shichihenge' Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

Last week I attended the Bloom N' Garden Expo in Williamson County, TN.  It's a neat event held each year that offers garden speakers, display gardens, and (of course) plant vendors!  I've been getting pickier in my plant selections over the past year or so because I want unique plants for my garden.  I'm not trying to fill it up anymore, just trying to make it interesting!  Also money is an issue.  Despite advertising here on this blog (which doesn't earn much) and my fledgling nursery venture we're still really just a single income family. I don't want to spend money on plants I can raise from seed or through cuttings.  Nor do I want to spend money on plants that I don't have a good place to plant them.  So I've been getting more picky.  Fortunately at these kinds of shows there are unique plants to find like the 'Beni Shichihenge' Japanese maple I bought!

'Beni Shichihenge' came home with me because it has some really interesting variegated foliage.  It begins with red on the leaf edges in the spring which eventually changes toward a creamy white variegation.  This Japanses maple is a slow grower and at its top height will reach about 12 feet tall.  For now it will grace itself in a pot either on our front porch or back deck.  I don't have the perfect place planned for it yet and I'm hesitant to place it in a landscape that is also known as the Bambi buffet!

I bought 'Beni Shichihenge' from an extremely knowledgeable and very personable nursery owner out of a North Carolina nursery called Nichols Nursery.  Tim Nichols told me that they have over 700 varieties of Japanese maples in their nursery which also has an online presence at Mr. Maple.  I think you can guess how it got its name!

'Beni Shichihenge' was grafted onto another Japanese maple root stock.  This is commonly done with Japanese maple cultivars since most of them don't enjoy growing on their own roots.  Seed grown grafting stock gives these fancy cultivars a good chance of survival with a strong root system.  One common root stock used for grafting Japanese maples is Acer palmatum 'atropurpureum' which is a red leaved Japanese maple.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Around Our Garden Landscape

This weekend after all the garden related chores were done for the day, and just before sunset came, I took a few photographs of how our gardens look this April.  I still have mulching, pruning, weeding, and many other things to do but I thought it would be a good time to share some of our garden with you.  These pictures are mostly of the backyard but there is one of our sideyard garden where the arbor is. 

The first picture is a wide shot of the backyard.  The lawn in the middle is framed by the vegetable garden to the right and the birdbath garden to the left. One of these days I'll repair the birdbath and get it back out there!  This year has been extremely busy and I've put off some projects in favor of others.  The birdbath is one of the "do later" chores.  You can see in the vegetable garden the two wooden trellises I made last year for cucumbers and melons.  They worked great!

We'll shift slightly to the left and see more of the birdbath garden.  Irises are blooming right now but soon other perennials will be showing off.  The two shrubs on the far side toward the back of the garden are a ninebark and a witchhazel.  I need to move one of them but I'm afraid it may be too late this year.  Perhaps this fall I'll attempt it. 

 Another slight shift to the left shows a viburnum on the corner.

Inside the garden is a statue placed in a patch of catmint.  Catmint is one of my most favorite perennials simply because it is so easy to grow!  It's easy to propagate too and you can turn one into many very quickly.  It attracts pollinators and is said to repel certain undesirable insects (like termites, cockroaches, and mosquitoes)!

This pink phlox has made a nice home underneath a crape myrtle.  Unfortunately the crape myrtles in our yard are severely frost bitten. They will recover but if they bloom will most likely bloom much later than normal.  We can blame this on the early warm weather and the frost combo.

And last I'll leave you with this photo of our side garden arbor and the corner shade garden.  Hostas, heucheras, oak leaf hydrangea, ajuga, hellebores, Japanse ferns, and astilbe all are in the corner shade garden.  The Japanse maple is a little frost bit but mostly came through the frost OK.

I hope you enjoyed that quick tour!  There's more to come soon!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Top Posts from Growing The Home Garden! (Friday Fives)

It's been a while since I've recapped any of the older posts here at Growing The Home Garden.  Since today I'll be at the Bloom N' Garden Expo I thought I would put together a quick recap post for the Friday Fives.  The posts listed in this post have been around for a while and continue to be some of the most popular posts on this website.  Some newer subscribers may not have read these yet so here's you're chance! (Not that they are going anywhere any time soon!)

5 Popular Posts from Growing The Home Garden!

  1. Designing a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden: 11 Things To Think About.  This is perhaps the most popular post of all of them.  I wrote 11 tips for gardeners designing a garden using raised beds that are all based on my observations made from gardening with my own raised beds!
  2. Vegetable Garden Layout Using Raised Beds.  In this post I wrote about the layout of the vegetable garden back in 2009.  It also has a little bit of background information about the evolution of our vegetable garden and a to do list from way back!  To do lists can be helpful even if it isn't your garden they are meant for!
  3. Fall Vegetable Garden Layout for a 4'x8' Raised Bed.  Here again we're talking about raised beds! This time I put together a planned arrangement for my fall garden.  The design shows how much you can really plant in one 4'x8' raised bed. Click on the picture or the link to see the post.
  4. Why You Shouldn't Plant a Bradford Pear But Some People Do Anyway!  This one always gets a lot of traffic in the spring when the Bradfords are in bloom.  They are beautiful trees but extremely problematic.  I really advocate against using them in the landscape.  If you want a pear tree, plant one you can eat from otherwise plant something else!    
  5. A Companion Planting Vegetable Garden Layout.  This post has a garden layout that includes the concept of companion planting.  It's not a complete guide to companion planting but you can find some more information on that in this Friday Five Post on Companion Planting.  What the post does have is a layout of a garden bed using tomatoes, onions, marigolds, and cucumbers.  There are tons of ways to arrange a garden and this is just one option!

As you can see the raised bed gardening posts are some of the most popular here at Growing The Home Garden.  Hopefully you can find some use for these posts in your gardening journey!

If you're in our area (Middle TN/Spring Hill/Franklin/Columbia) and happen to be at the Bloom N' Garden Expo today stop by and say hi to the Spring Hill Garden Club folks!  I'll be there between 11 AM -1 PM but if you're interested in meeting other people who are passionate about garden stop by and talk to us!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Weedy Wednesday: Ragweed Seedlings

It that transitional time of the growing season where the spring weeds are coming to an end and the warm season weeds are beginning to arrive.  This time of year is also when many of our warm season crops and plants are coming up too.  Sometimes it isn't easy to distinguish between a weed and a seedlings planted from seed when they are young.  That's why it is very important to learn what your garden's weeds look like!  Today we're going to take a look at one very common, and very annoying (especially if you have allergies), weed: ragweed.

Ragweed seedling sprouting among lettuce in a raised bed.

We have ragweed just about everywhere that the soil is exposed.  That in itself tells me that I need to cover better with mulch!  Ragweed isn't a hard weed to remove when it's young.  It pulls up very easily.  When it gets growing it can be a little more tricky to successfully remove, especially when entrenched in dry clay soil (AKA a brick).

Ragweed is responsible for causing many of the fall allergy problems that so many people have. For that reason (and the yummy taste) I recommend eating local honey!  Local honey bees use the pollen of plants around them to make their honey which helps the people who eat the honey develop resistance to the pollen.  But since this isn't a health food blog I'll get back to gardening! Ragweed unfortunately gets mixed up with goldenrod because golden rod blooms in magnificent golden colored plumes of flowers each fall right when all the allergies are happening. Goldenrod is insect pollinated and doesn't impact people significantly.  Ragweed is wind pollinated and gets everywhere which causes the irritation in you're nose that I'm sure you are quite fond of. ;)

This is one of those cases where what you do (or don't do) now could effect you later.  Get the weeds when young and you'll have fewer problems!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kingsnakes: A Garden's Best Friend!

You may not believe me but snakes really can be a garden's (and gardener's) best friend!  Many people carry a fear of these creatures.  I can understand being afraid of poisonous snakes but the others are quite beneficial.  Yesterday while I was outside near my vegetable garden putting in some outdoor plant shelves (made from old wooden pallets) I moved a piece of plywood that was being used to smother some weeds.  Underneath the plywood I found a network of vole holes but I also found this black kingsnake hanging out just waiting for his next meal to come along!  I said to myself "that's pretty dang cool!"

Why are snakes good for the garden? 

Because they eat one of the most annoying rodents: voles.  The also eat other rodents but voles are quite destructive creatures.  They tunnel under the ground frequently using abandoned mole holes.  From underground voles nibble and naw on the roots of any plant they find tasty.  Often trees and shrubs can be severely damaged by the girdling effect when voles get right up to the trunk and eat the bark all the way around the trunk.  Voles also can do a number of vegetable plants in the vegetable garden.

Kingsnakes are pretty cool snakes to have around if you're going to have snakes around.  Here's why, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources: 
Kingsnakes are resistant to the venom of pit-vipers and they readily eat copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes. 
What could be better in the garden than a snake that not only eats vermin but also dines on poisonous snakes!  Now that is one cool snake.

It wasn't long before I watched the king snake, my new best friend, disappear back into the series of vole holes outside of our vegetable garden.  I found him again later, or hopefully a friend of his, underneath a tarp I needed to move.  Many people would simply kill the snake out of fear rather than learn about it and welcome it to the garden.  As gardeners it's important that we not only learn about but also learn to appreciate the wonders of nature and how it can aid us when in the garden!


Friday, April 6, 2012

5 Neat Native Plants!

Native plants have many advantages over exotic plants.  I thought for today's Friday Fives Post I would mention five native plants that are pretty neat to have in your garden.  First though let's define the terms native and exotic.  Exotic plants are those that are not indigenous to your region.  They've either been brought from other place by seed or in plant form.  In many cases exotic plants can be awesome plants in the landscape.  I think often people get confused between exotic plants and exotic-invasive plants.  Sometimes exotic plants do too well in an area and begin to dominate which of course is also when they become a problem.  They can choke out native forage plants that animals need to survive and may not have the necessary features to adequately nourish our wildlife.

There are several advantages to planting native plants in your garden. 

  1. Native plants feed and nourish the local wildlife.
  2. Native plants are better adapted to weather conditions than exotics in most cases.
  3. Native plants are also more drought tolerant which is good for gardeners in regions where water can be scarce.
  4. Native plants provide nesting locations and shelter for many forms of wildlife.
Native plants can become invasive or aggressive growers, but this is how they developed and the local ecology developed with them over many, many years.

So there you have a small comparison of native vs. exotic plants.  It's a subject that can go into much greater detail but that covers it in a nutshell.  Now it's time for the fun stuff - the plants!  Below are five neat native plants that are either in or around my garden areas.

Five Neat Natives!

  1. Cross Vine or Bignonia capreolata.  This extremely long vine (up to 50 ft.) is a great food source for hummingbirds and butterflies.  In the garden it could be a great option for trellising over an arbor or other garden structure.  This cross vine is all over our wilder slope areas.  I've allowed it to do it's own thing but I'm also tempted to take a few cuttings and introduce it into a more formal arbor setting.
  2. Coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a really cool vine/bush.  I've written about my red coral honeysuckle several times before so I won't go into great detail here but it's another great hummingbird magnet!  It doesn't have as strong of a scent as the Japanese honeysuckle but it makes up for it with it's amazing flowers.  
  3. Near the honeysuckle I have golden ragwort (Packera aurea) given to me by Gail at Clay and Limestone.  It's done beautifully here nestled underneath a crape myrtle (exotic) and beside my side garden arbor.  The crape myrtle is bare when the ragwort blooms then shields it from the sun during the summer.  The ragwort has spread by its seeds very well but not overwhelmingly.  It would be easy to cultivate quite a few of these spring bloomers into a mass of yellow.
  4. Fothergilla is a neat relative of the witchhazel.  It's a shrub that forms these puffy white flowers each spring.  It's a neat plant but I honestly have neglected it.  The area surrounding it needs weeded and a good mulch will make this small shrub very happy.
  5. I like this next native a lot but it can have some health issues: the dogwood!  This picture was from my mother's garden but we do have several dogwoods in and around our own gardens (they don't look as pretty though!)  Dogwoods feed the birds in the fall with their bright red berries.  Unfortunately they can suffer from powdery mildew and anthracnose. Newer cultivars are more resistant but are usually made from a hybrid of Cornus florida (native) and Cornus kousa (exotic).

There you have 5 neat native plants!  What natives are your favorites in the garden? 

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