Proper Pruning for Petunias—Keep them compact and blooming all season.

Petunias are beautiful, quick, and fun to grow. Here’s how to keep them pretty all summer.

Trude visited us the other day. She said, “John, you said you would tell me how to grow a well-shaped petunia, but you never did.”

I reached for the pruning shears and led her over to a nice plant that needed a bit of care. I handed her the camera and then cut a tip from a stem that was getting too long. “It’s sort of like giving the plant a hair cut.

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careful pruning makes the petunia plant stronger

I cut another tip and then another. Trude said, “I usually just cut mine way back in June or July after it gets stringy and stops blooming but it never does well after that.”

I replied, “I like to trim them every three weeks or so—just about when I notice that they are getting straggly. This does several things, it makes the plant more compact and therefore much stronger, it increases the number of leaves that are available to make food for the plant, and it furnishes more and healthier blooms. This sort of pruning also takes care of the need for dead-heading.”

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Give the plant a “haircut.” It will grow out quickly.

I pointed. “When the tips are removed, all of the growth that is developing on the stem will begin to grow out and develop. With good care, this growth happens quickly and the plant will be back in full bloom in a week or two.”

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cutting the tips will allow this new growth to take off and grow

Trude reached in and removed a dead bloom, “I always go through and remove all of these,” she said. She showed me the dead bloom.

“You didn’t get the ovary,” I replied. She looked at me with a question asked by raised eyebrows.

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merely pulling off the dead bloom doesn’t do the job. You must get the ovary containing developing seeds

I thought for a moment, “Here’s the concept,” I began…

This plant is an annual. It seems to know that it has only one season to grow and reproduce so it makes lots of blooms. When these blooms have been pollinated and when the ovaries are full of developing flower seeds, the plant’s chemical sensors relay that its job has been done. When the plant has made plenty of seeds, it doesn’t see a need for more. It’s sort of like a lady who had several children but wanted a daughter. She tried one more time and got twin boys. She said, “It’s time to stop.”

I pinched off a flower and set it in her hand. “Look closely at the lump at the bottom of the flower. This is the ovary where the seeds are formed. If you just remove the flower and not the ovary, you haven’t really accomplished anything.”

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The petunia bloom showing developing seed pot (ovary).

I finished cutting the tips from the plant. “If you just cut the tips carefully, you will accomplish the task of dead-heading and shape the plant at the same time.”

Here is the plant after I practiced proper petunia pruning procedures:

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A well-trimmed petunia plant will grow out quickly and produce many fore flowers

“To keep the petunia growing strongly, I like to give it lots of light and to feed it every couple of weeks with a well-balanced plant food. If your plant is in a Mother’s Day hanging basket, you may wish to put it in a larger container to give the roots plenty of room to grow.”

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Your petunia basket will grow better and longer if it is transferred to a larger pot

You may also want to read my article titled “The basics of pruning.”

Thanks for visiting Johntheplantman. Tell your friends.

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How to fix a water hose that kinks and leaks

Do you need a new water hose or do you need to try these simple directions to get the kinks and leaks out of your life? Watering plants and meditation go well together unless you have to constantly stop and unkink the hose. This is a simple concept and I don’t want to insult anyone, but I have noticed that a lot of people just never thought about it. Read on.

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Watering plants can be a good meditation experience. A kink in the hose will ruin it.

I find it annoying to have to stop and pull the kinks out of the hose but there is a reason for the kinks and there is an easy way to rectify the problem. So, I’m watering the plants, I have my mind out of gear enjoying solitude and quiet and the freaking water stops coming out of the hose. I turn and look.

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someone has left the hose in a dreadful state. I can’t get any watering done

The reason that the hose kinks up is that the hose is twisted. It gets twisted when we turn and move about while using it. This is natural. Some hoses have a stripe down one side. I used to wonder what that stripe was and then one day I slapped my forehead—“It’s got that line to help me get the twists out. Duh.”

So, now when I start getting kinks in hoses, I gently pull the hose out in a straight line, twisting against the kinks as I go. As the hose is untwisted the kinks disappear by themselves. And that’s all there is to it. Here’s the same hose after I untwisted it:

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Don’t try to take the kinks out one at a time but instead pull the hose straight and un-twist it against the direction of the twists. It will heal itself.

With that problem solved, I find that I need to tell the others who use this particular hose that if they are going to bend it to stop the flow of water, to do it somewhere besides the same place close to the user end. This habit will quickly break down the cording in the hose and cause the bend to become chronic and aggravating. This is a good and expensive hose which has been compromised by “hose abuse.” Oh, Well.

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Don’t take part in “hosal abuse.” This hose has been compromised by being bent at the end to stop the water flow. It begins to start doing it automatically and that will ruin good meditation time

The next thing is leakage. If the hose is leaking at the faucet (hose bib), don’t over-tighten it with pliers, but check the washer instead. A worn washer is the cause of a hose/faucet connection 99% of the time. Washers are cheap and easy to replace; just use a screwdriver or something like that to pry out the old one and then stuff in a new one. It will last for a year or two. I have seen lots of good hoses discarded for this reason and I have seen many instances where there was no washer at all in the fitting. The same thing applies if your hose nozzle is squirting more water on you than on your plants. Check it out.

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worn hose washers leak. Don’t keep tightening the hose, change the washer. This is the cause of most leaks.

One other tip—When you get a new hose, unroll it carefully instead of just pulling it out of the roll that it comes in. This will keep the hose from being twisted from the start.

I wrote a related article some time back about how to use your hose to fertilize your plants with a syphonex.  If you have a lot of ornamentals to care for, this will be a tremendous help.

Happy Gardening

Early Spring Pictures From A Meditation Garden

Laura Adams got a new camera and made some beautiful pictures of the Myrtle Hill meditation garden in early spring.

The garden in the historical cemetery in Rome, Georgia, was started in 2016. There seems to be something magic about this garden. It was built on the theme of “Three Rivers and Seven Hills,” and some very good soil was hauled in to build the “seven hills.” It just seems that everything I plant in this garden thrives. Maybe it’s the quiet neighborhood.

Here’s the garden tour. Thank you Laura for the beautiful pictures

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The stone walkway represents the three rivers of Rome

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Dianthus in a rock bed. A dependable perennial

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lovely spring iris

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The hillside supports the plants. The plants maintain the hillside symbiosis at its best

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The Japanese maples will eventually form an arch over the walk way

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Their common name is “Sweet William.” They are a member of the same family as the carnation.

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The ornamental iron fencing was a gift from Mike McDougald from his childhood home

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The comfy benches are nested into a planting of fragrant gardenias and tea olives

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several boulders have been placed for sitting, enjoyment, and pondering

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a wonderful year for iris blooms

 

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The photographer took care to frame the shots just right

 

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I love the window to the mountains framed by the overhanging Japanese maples.

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a study in blues and purples

 

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Summer color will be added to the garden during the first part of May

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A walk through this garden will provide a connection with serenity and peace.

 

I don’t know about you but I truly enjoyed the tour. Now I will have to get out my pruning shears and go over there to clip a few tips.

There is a story to this garden. I posted it a while back. To see the story of the garden click here

 

A Garden Tour of the Callaway Estate in LaGrange, Georgia. Part one of several

Let me tell you a secret.
There is a magnificent garden to visit in LaGrange, Georgia.

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A map of the garden started in 1841 by Sarah Coleman Ferrell as she expanded a garden started by her mother in 1832

My wife and I made plans to go to LaGrange for a Saturday visit with some friends. Dekie and I like to visit small towns and see the sights, the architecture, and to just get a feel for the places that we visit. I have driven through LaGrange many times on my way to and from my hometown of Columbus, Georgia. I had never stopped to look around until this past weekend. Our friends mentioned the Callaway Estate (not to be confused with Ida Cason Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain) that had some “interesting grounds.”

And the grounds were, indeed, interesting. I took pictures as we walked through the beautiful gardens and I will share these in several articles. I knew it was going to be good when we drove up and I saw the pruning job on the plants around this sign:

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carefully pruned shrubbery by an entrance sign.

I looked around after we parked and saw that the natural areas were inviting and interesting.

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Natural areas and pathways welcome us from the parking lot

The well-tended loropetalum plant against the welcome center wall was a great blend of color and texture.

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I love that shaped loropetalum

The entrance plantings were delightful. I wanted to shrink myself down and get lost in the maze.

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A boxwood parterre on each side of the entrance to the visitor center carries a sort of magic feeling

We were about a week late for the azalea bloom but I could tell that they had been magnificent. The garden, however, is able to stand on its own without depending on the azalea blooms and I’m sure that our visit was a lot less crowded than it would have been.

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There are lots of isolated visual treats

Another view of the entry garden shows that the background is also very important and well-done.

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I love the way the background merges with the total picture.

When we walked out on the rear landing, right away, I was taken by the pathway meandering through the vista. The trees were all manicured and precisely placed.

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I wonder what’s at the end of this pathway?

I love planters as accents. This arborvitae topiary was matched on other corners.

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topiary plantings in flower pots make a statement

There were a lot of Chinese fringe trees (Chionanthus retusus). We were just in time to catch the flowers. I could tell that the trees had been totally full of blooms a week before.

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Chinese fringe trees make a statement

All of today’s pictures were taken before I even got to the actual gardens. I will post more in another post in a few days. Stay tuned.

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The garden tour begins from this point. Tune in for the next article, or subscribe.

Grow your own Hydrangea Plants From Cuttings.

Just like Grandma did

Rooting Hydrangeas in April.

You can start your own hydrangea plants in April just like Grandma did in the “Good old days.”

rooting hydrangea in April

This is the “Phantom” hydrangea which forms blooms on new growth. Cuttings may be rooted in early spring without interfering with the bloom cycle

(I’m writing this article on April 6 in Northwest Georgia. At this time of year your hydrangea plants could look different according to how far north or south you are of Rome, Georgia.)

I am not talking about all varieties of hydrangea here. Some Hydrangea plants form their flower buds in the fall and winter. These varieties do not need to be cut this time of year because this will stop the plants from blooming. These varieties are the “big leaf varieties” such as Nikko blue or pink. They are commonly called “mopheads.” You should wait to cut on these varieties after they bloom. The big leaf mopheads look something like this picture.

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This is a picture of the leaves of hydrangea macrophylla or “big leaf” hydrangea. These plants form their flower buds in late fall or winter. They should be propagated immediately after blooming, not in April

Some hydrangheas form their blooms on new growth. These are referred to as the  “smooth leafe hydrangeas” and include varieties such as Annabelle, Limelight, and Phantom (which is what I am using.) These varieties commonly bloom later in the year and that means that some of the tips may be safely removed in Aril and early May. The foliage looks like that in the picture below.

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The “smooth leaf” hydrangeas form their blooms on new growth. These are the ones to use for rooting in april.

Since this Phantom variety is one of those that bloom on this year’s growth, I can remove some of the tips and leave some others. This way I will get a succession of flowering and as a bonus, when I cut the tips it will cause the plant stems to branch out which will mean even more flowers. So to start the propagation process, I reach in and cut a few tips. I cut them about eight inches long.:

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take about an 8 to 10 inch cutting from the plant as shown

The place where the leaves and tiny lateral buds are attached to the stem is called a “node.” I have trimmed the stem to just up under the node and I have also removed the leaves. This is where the roots will develop.

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prepare the hydrangea cutting by removing lower leaves and trimming close to the leaf node

Next, I will take several of the prepared cuttings, bunch them up, and stick them in a vase of water. The vase will be placed in a cool, shady (but not dark) location. I use a clear vase because the cuttings will suck up the water and the vase will need more water ever few days.

The cuttings in the picture below have been in there for at least a coupleof weeks. If I look closely I can see that the bases of the stems have gotten larger and that they are getting ready to send out some roots. Once the roots grow out a little bit, I will pot them up with some good potting soil. At that time I will pinch the top growth bud off of the stems to encourage branching.

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hydrangea cuttings in a vase of water waiting for roots to form

One more piece of information: The linguistic root of the word hydrangea is “hydra” which means “water” (hydrated, for instance).

A good article on pruning hydrangeas in January which goes into the different types of hydrangeas can be found here

Thank you for visiting John the Plant Man.

How to mix your own super potting soil

My secret formula for making good potting soil and saving money.

Good, clean potting soil, it’s cheap, and it really works.

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I need to repot some older plants and plant some new ones. I’m going to need a lot of potting soil and potting soil is expensive. I’ve been thinking about it for some time and I’ve figured out how to put together a mix that will do a wonderful job of growing our plants over the coming season. A mix like this is cheaper than buying regular potting soil. I’ll do a cost analysis at the end of the article.

Potting soil is an art form. In 1970 when I got a part time job at a commercial greenhouse, my first job was to mix potting soil. It’s a fun job. I’m still doing it 48 years later. Here’s the secret:

On March 31, I did a bit of shopping. I got some soil conditioner, mushroom compost, peat moss, and lime from Willow Creek Nursery.

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peat moss, mushroom compost, soil conditioner, and lime for excellent potting soil

The soil conditioner is a finely ground bark. A two cubic foot bag cost $3.00. I’m sure that there are different brand names and different consistencies everywhere.  I wanted something to make up the bulk of the soil mix that wouldn’t pack, was relatively lightweight, and would remain porous. It also had to be cheap. I dumped a bag into my wheelbarrow:

soil conditioner

A finely ground organic soil conditioner is a good start.

Next I needed something to supply growth organisms and to hold a bit of moisture.

mushroom compost

straight from the mushroom farm. This is good stuff.

Many years ago a man from Tennessee brought me pickup truck loads of wonderful black stuff from a mushroom farm north of Chattanooga. Mushroom growing mix is highly specialized and it can only be used once, so the mushroom farm just threw it away at that time. I got it delivered (I had to help shovel it off the truck) for maybe $40.00. Now it costs right at five dollars for a 40 lb. bag—but it goes a long way.  I dumped in about a third of the bag, pouring a layer of it on top of the soil conditioner.

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add the ingredients in layers, they will mix more evenly that way

Next is peat moss. I bought a one cubic foot bag for $9.95. I could have saved money by buying a larger bag but I was thinking more like a homeowner and hobbyist. I figure that this will be enough for four large mixes. The peat moss will help to hold moisture and nutrients, and it is relatively light-weight. I have now made three layers of materials in the wheelbarrow.

peat moss in the potting soil

the peat moss is tightly packed and should be broken up and added as a layer

Most organic soil materials are a bit on the acid side and we need to rectify this. I use a bit of pelletized lime to change the pH (acidity balance) toward slightly basic (alkaline).

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pelletized lime acts quickly to balance the potting soil

This is important for most plants, but if you are using the soil for azaleas or camellias, you may wish to leave the lime out. Some evergreens also prefer an acid soil. I am a firm believer in the positive effects of lime in potting soil. I just spread a bit on top:

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spread lime over the potting soil prior to mixing

There are a lot of different time release fertilizers. Osmocote is a good one. These fertilizers are made so that they will break down over a period of several months. I like a fertilizer balance with a high middle number (phosphorous) but sometimes it’s hard to find and in that case a balanced plant food (14-14-14 for instance) will do.

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sprinkle time release fertilizer over the potting soil mix

The next step is fun. Mix the concoction thoroughly. It is also good to add some water after it is well mixed and turn it over one more time. This mix looks good, it sounds good, but more importantly, it feels good—and it’s cost effective—a good product at a good price.

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The dry ingredients are easy to blend with a shovel or by hand. Then add a bit of water

It was a beautiful day. My wife has been working on some tree-form camellias and I was able to pot up several of them without spending a fortune on potting soil.

camellia planted with home made potting mix

These big pots use a lot of potting soil, but the plants grow well in them

Here’s my cost:

Soil conditioner, $3.00, mushroom compost, $5.00, peat moss, $10.00, lime, $4.00. I bought four bags of the soil conditioner and using the other additives will make up four wheelbarrow mixes. The one wheelbarrow load that I made for this article used one bag of conditioner and ¼ bag of the peat and mushroom compost. The bag of lime will do about 20 mixes. So this mix was $3.00 (conditioner )+ $1.25 (mushroom compost)+ $2.50 (peat moss)—add on a bit for lime and fertilizer and you will have about ten dollars for three cubic feet of some really good potting soil—and you know what’s in it. Compare that with two cubic feet of comparable, prepared potting soil, which would cost you about $15. This type of savings really adds up over the long haul.

Have fun gardening, and share this with your friends,

John Schulz

Another article that may be helpful this spring is about an easy way to apply liquid fertilizer on your plants

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Birth of a Meditation Garden

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Meditation Garden in September 2017. Myrtle Hill Cemetery, Rome, Georgia.

Rome is a beautiful town in northwest Georgia(U.S.). The town is nestled into a group of seven hills (that’s where it got its name). The Etowah and the Oostanaula rivers run together to form the Coosa River which runs over into Alabama and then south toward the Gulf of Mexico. The residents of Rome are proud of their three rivers and seven hills.

I have lived in Rome for over forty years. A number of years ago I had a thought that, when the location was right, I wanted to build a garden with a seven hills and three rivers theme. In fall of 2015 I was asked to design a garden for “the last flat place” in the historic Myrtle Hill Cemetery. (Myrtle Hill is one of the seven hills that I mentioned.) I immediately realized that this was my chance to fulfill my dream design! I decided to use seven berms to represent the hills and a stone pathway for the three rivers. There would be trees, other plants, and large stones to sit on. An antique fence and metal benches were donated and would be incorporated. The bottom corner of the information sign reminds us that “every garden needs a bit of fantasy.”

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The elf man’s shoes. Every garden must contain a bit of fantasy.

I took a lot of pictures and at this point I will quit talking and start showing. Here is a condensed sequence showing the first year of the garden. The first few months were the planning stages.

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We started on a cold winter’s day with seven piles of river bottom soil. The Rome Public Works Department was most helpful. It was a joint effort. 11/7/2015

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Meeting with the city officials. Jody and Stan were my major go to guys. They were a great help with the project

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We had gotten several boulders brought in to use for “sitting stones” in case someone wanted to sit on a rock and think about things. Stan Rogers and I discussed the placement particulars. 3/8/16

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Setting the rocks took some time. They had to be placed just right so that the walkway(river) and the berms (7 hills) could be worked around them. We only had one shot at getting it right. It was the perfect opportunity to use the biggest paintbrush ever.

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Pads for benches were poured and David Lamb built a walkway to serve as a symbolic representation of Rome’s three rivers.5/10/2016

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J. R. Schulz came from Atlanta to check out the progress. He posed on the sitting rock. 6/18/16. I love that chair-shaped rock. Lots of people love it.

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July 22. The berms are shaped, walkway installed, irrigation working, and the sod has been laid. I was working out planting ideas. I would proceed one brush stroke at a time.

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At each entry we poured custom stepping stones with fern imprintings. These are in the curing process. 8/3/2016

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panorama picture looks best if shot on an overcast day. I took this one on August 22, 2016. I was really getting excited about the garden!

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Daniel de Wit with Ennis Art came all the way from Asheville to do the custom staining on the patios and stepping stones. The Japanese maple behind him was flourishing, even in the drought. October 6, 2016. The abstract concrete artist.

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October 14, 2016 was the day of the dedication. The ceremony was well-attended and moving. I was able to get this picture of Margot having a philosophical discussion with her great grandpawpaw.

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Here are some of the people where were involved in the garden project. If I try to name them all I will make a mistake, so I’ll leave the picture as it is.

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The meditation garden in late September of 2017. This garden has out performed any garden I have ever done. I think there is a lot of love here.

Thank you for visiting Johntheplantman. Why don’t you visit the garden at Myrtle Hill–It’s an interesting place to put your thoughts together. In October I’ll get busy changing the color from summer pretties to winter ones.

And thank you to Sylvia Eidson for your constant weed vigil. Your efforts add to the beauty of the site.

Flowers for Late Winter and Early Spring—part one of a series

I love to watch the progression of winter into spring by noticing the flowers as they appear while the season progresses. This year I kept a photo-log. I was happy to find that even though I’m not well enough organized to keep the dates, the camera is. I started on February 1 with the first daffodil that I saw:

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My morning welcome on February first. Daffodil bulbs should be planted in November

Walking up by the meditation garden I noticed that one of the hybrid Lenten roses (helleboris) had bloomed. February 8

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Hybrid Lenten rose in February. These shade-loving plants may be planted any time of the year. They are evergreen. (helleborus)

On February 12 a flash of red caught my eye and I decided that, even though it is not a flower, it is a source of early color so I have included the nandina berries.

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A nandina bush may be planted any time of the year. The berries usually show up around the first of November

The weather this past spring was exceptional and things seemed a bit different in the flower world. In Rome, Georgia, where I live, I’ve noticed over the years that the “tulip magnolia” (magnolia soulangeana) only shows a good bloom every four or five years. The freeze usually gets them—but this year, 2017, I saw this magnificent specimen in bloom on February 14

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This magnolia is deciduous (not evergreen) and it blooms in the spring before producing leaves. “Tulip magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana)

A flowering quince at the end of my driveway is somehow still alive after being totally neglected through a drought and bumped repeatedly by my truck bumper. It was in bloom on February 17.

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The flowering quince is an easy-to-grow shrub that was probably prized by your great-grandmother. Don’t plant it near a traffic area

Another of the hybrid Lenten rose plants bloomed on 2/23.

hybrid helleboris

There are a lot of varieties of this plant. Some of the new ones can be a bit pricey but they are all lovely–and easy, easy. They love shade.

It had been hanging in there all winter out on the porch but with the coming of warmer weather my prized double orange pansy was showing off on February 24.

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The double orange pansy started showing off as the weather got warmer.

My wife received a nice camera for Christmas and she presented me with a high definition of a beautiful daffodil. I played with it a while and got this composition. February 24

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A pretty daffodil for the end of February. photo by Dekie Hicks

My February photos started the month with daffodils and right at the end of the month I took this picture which I titled “spring cluster.” February 26

spring cluster

More daffodils to finish off the month of February. They just make you happy, don’t they?

My wife, Dekie, showed me a plant languishing in the corner of the yard and told me that an old lady had given it to her years ago and that it was special. We dug it up, put it in some good dirt, and gave it some tender loving care. The plant rewarded us with lots of pretty flowers and we were able to identify it as a flowering almond. March 1

flowering almond

Flowering Almond may be grown as a bush or trained as a small tree. It is related to the peach and the cherry

I saw a bright glow of flowers on a protected lorapetalum bush on March 2

lorapetalum

Lorapetalum is colorful and easy to grow. It seems to bloom shortly after pruning most of the year.

The red azalea in the back yard showed off on March 3 with a nice grouping of flowers. I knew it was early and I was right. A freeze zapped the blooms a couple of nights later.

azalea morning sun

The first week of March is too early for azalea blooms in north Georgia. Sure enough, the cold zapped the blooms. Oh, Well, maybe next year.

The pansies that I planted in the meditation garden last October were there all along but on March 22 I noticed that they were really going to put on a show. My grower had shown me a new variety of pansies developed for hanging baskets. I thought I would try it on a hill side and I was rewarded with quite a show. March 22

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The drifts of pansies performed well this year.

I went by to see my friend Marilyn on March 23. Her hillside was covered in the beautiful old-fashioned pink phlox. Now, I would love to know the history of this plant. I know that Marilyn got it from Granmaw Sue but I knew Sue for many years and she was elderly when I met her. Granmaw sue had at least five acres of flowers and she loved to share. Maybe she lives on in the hillside planting. Phlox subulata, March 23

Marilyn's phlox

I used to see this “creeping Phlox all over the rural south. Not so much, now. You have to get it from an old lady to be successful.

Dianthus is one of my favorites. It is pretty hardy and there are so many colorful varieties. I think it is interesting that the dianthus (pinks) is related to the carnation that we are all so familiar with in flower arrangements. I think I planted these dianthus plants in November and they over-wintered very well. April 2

april dianthus

There are many varieties of dianthus. They will tolerate cold but seem to decline in the heat of summer. Then they return in the fall.

A long time ago I lived in a house that had an old, hand dug well in the back yard. The sides of the well had been bricked up and the well was no longer used, but it was a garden accent. A purple oxalis plant languished in the sorry dirt next to the well. It died every winter and then I noticed that in the spring it poked its head back up and tried to grow again. One year I potted some up and treated it right. It rewarded my efforts with a show. April 4

purple oxalis

A hardy perennial, it will withstand much abuse. Needs bright light Some people call its green cousin “shamrock”.

My final offering for this first part of the series is the iris. Now, talk about a survivor, this is it. We had a big stand of iris in the yard and wanted to thin the plants out. I dug them up and piled them up next to the fence where they stayed, neglected, for about two years. Last September I grabbed a shovel full of them and threw them on the side of a hill in the still developing meditation garden. They thanked me for finally paying attention to them. Here they are on April 8

iris and sky

The iris is a survivor and thrives on neglect. It needs dividing periodically, so share with your friends.

Some time in the next two or three weeks I will post another installment of this series. It’s a good activity for a rainy day. Thanks for visiting

Johntheplantman

Share this with your friends.

john

Timing is Everything—Landscape Maintenance in January. Let The Light Shine In

People ask, “What should I do in my yard in January and February? Is it time to prune the shrubbery? What else should I do?” Here are some of the treatments that I provide for my clients this time of year. It also occurred to me that I am one of my clients, thanks to the suggestions of my sweet wife.

Many of our evergreen trees this time of the year have lots of brown spots     and begin to appear straggled. The trees and shrubs grow luxurious foliage in the summer which shades out the growth inside the plants. In the winter, a good thing to do is to prune the trees and trim out all of the brown and unsightly debris. Here is a picture of a cripsii cypress that has been carefully pruned and cleaned. Notice all the places where the light can shine in. The tree will begin to grow and fill in during the spring and summer.

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This cripsii cypress in January has been pruned and cleaned to be ready for spring growth.

Mid January to early February is the optimum time to prune boxwoods. The lateral buds in the boxwood are waiting to grow but the apical buds (those on the tips of the stems) need to be removed before new growth begins in the spring. To see how this actually works, read a short article titled “The Basics of Pruning that I wrote a number of years ago.

Pictured below is a prized boxwood belonging to one of my clients. He said, “That’s my pride and joy. I haven’t allowed anyone to touch it because no one seemed to know exactly how to do it.”

But I knew what to do—I’ve been doing it for over thirty years. It is a job to be performed by hand, with pruning shears. Power pruners should not be used on a nice plant like this.

boxwood-1

This boxwood needed pruning and shaping to let the light in and to thereby gain strength

Pruning took hours, but if you look at the plant in this picture you will see that it has retained the potential for its free-form shape but has also had the canopy of top growth lightened up to allow light to filter in and encourage inside growth and stem strengthening. Also notice that I am in the process of spreading lime which will help to neutralize the acid in the soil and make the plant more receptive to fertilizer in March.

boxwood-2

Boxwood plant has been carefully pruned and I’m adding lime to sweeten the soil.

As I write this article I have found a theme in winter duties—allowing the light to shine in.

Our next job was to trim the liriope (monkey grass) to remove last year’s growth and to allow the light to better reach the new growth in the spring. We have found that a weed eater does a most efficient job of this and that we can clean up with a rake and a blower. The liriope that remains after cutting should be about two inches high. It is also good to add lime to this plant in the winter.

trim-liriope

January is a good time to trim liriope (monkey grass). This will give more light to the spring growth and allow it to grow freely.

Back at our home on Oakwood Street, my wife and I decided to tackle the dwarf yaupon hollies that are getting a bit overgrown. Again you will see that the canopy of leaves is not allowing the light to shine in. To quote Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

yaupon-3

The dwarf yaupon holly is overgrown and the inside growth is week. It needs pruning for appearance and strength.

After talking about it, we decided to get a bit radical on these plants. I pruned them for light, growth, and shape instead of worrying about how they will look for the next six weeks. I have found that it doesn’t hurt at all to cut the hollies radically because they will grow right back and will look better than ever.

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The yaupon holly after drastic pruning. With a little warmth and spring weather this plant will be magnificent.

I hope this information helps. There are a couple of other articles that you may be interested in:

Deadheading and pruning hydranges in January
Prune and trim an overgrown bonsai tree

Thank you for visiting my site and if you like what you see, tell your friends. I started this site almost 9 years ago with the goal of answering questions that I found myself answering frequently. There are many articles on this site and you may find the search feature helpful. – John Schulz

Make a Quick, Safe, And Inexpensive Area For Your Outdoor Fire Pit

Outdoor fire pits are fun. They can also be dangerous. There are many different ways for building a fire pit, and I will explore some of them in the next few weeks.

This week we were cleaning up and planting winter pansies for a long-time client who asked if she could add something on. I walked with her to the back yard and she showed me one of those charcoal grill looking things that are most useful for enjoying outdoor fires. She told me that they had gotten something for the patio and had moved this apparatus out into the yard but when they built a fire they became afraid that something in the surrounding area would catch on fire. She wanted to know if I could put some gravel down so things would be safer.

I explained that the gravel would be no problem but that we should also install a border to keep the gravel from spreading out all over the yard. I also observed that the area should be leveled before proceeding with the project.

We raked away the leaves and other organic materials and used a mattock to level the area. While that was going on, I drove down to Willow Creek Nursery and got some “river rounds.” Here is the flat place and some of the rocks.

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For a safe fireplace, we need a site that is cleaned of any leaves or other flamable debris.

We used the larger river rocks to build a border that would hold in the “pea gravel” that we would use for the “floor” of the project. Pea gravel is a nice, small, smooth rock that is found in a lot of river beds. There are other stone materials, I’m sure, that would serve the same purpose. My favorite nursery has pea gravel in bulk or you may spend more and get them from a Box store in bags.

pea gravel will provide a fire proof base and a rock border will hold in the gravel.

Your border could be just about anything related to what we used. Bricks, laid neatly, form an excellent border for the gravel base. Then you have all sorts of manufactured concrete products, but the more you get into manufactured, the more you pay.

Of course, depending on how far you have to drive, you may usually find free rocks somewhere. You can probably find someone you know who may want some old bricks hauled off. It is probably not a good idea to use cross-ties or landscape timbers for this project.

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An outdoor fireplace with a safe base. I can envision seats of cut tree trunks and people sitting around playing the guitar, singing and grinning.

There are lots of pre-fab fire places on the market. You may also want to use a rock border inside the area and build the fire right there on the ground .

Thanks for visiting John the Plant Man

 

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