|Edition 12.25||Paul Parent Garden Club News||June 21, 2012|
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When I was going to school at the University of Massachusetts, The Stockbridge School of Agriculture, I enjoyed my drive to and from school to my home in Scituate, Massachusetts, because of the mountain laurel that was in bloom during late May and June. As I drove home on Route 2 and other back roads from Amherst, Mass., the woods along the side of the road were filled with thousands of wild-growing and native mountain laurels. They loved growing just under the tree canopy on the side of the road but grew just as well all over the undisturbed woodland where they were able to get a bit of direct sunshine during the day.
The wild mountain laurel grew rounded and very dense in a sunny location but where the shade was denser, the plant did grow taller and a bit more open. Mountain laurel is a broadleaf evergreen plant that makes flowers 3/4 to 1 inch across. These flowers come in clusters of 25 or more, and inside the cup-shaped flower, you will find 10 stamens that give the white flower a bit of color contrast. The flowers open slowly over a long period, lasting on the plant for 6 to 8 weeks. You seldom see flower clusters with individual flowers in all stages of development. The buds begin as small rounded ball shaped buds but as they mature, they begin to take the shape of a fat looking star getting ready to burst open. The flower resembles a five sided cup-type flower. The cluster has flowers and flower buds in all sizes and shapes in the same cluster, giving the rounded ball flower cluster much character.
I like the mountain laurel better than the rhododendrons--and much more than the azaleas--when they are in bloom, because the foliage and the flowers look so delicate together--almost like lace. The flower cluster can grow to 4, 5 or even 6 inches in diameter and form on the tip of the branches (the growth made last year). The wild forms will occasionally give you a bit of pink color in the flower but white is the norm. But the best is yet to come and you need to know about the foliage first.
The foliage is beautiful and evergreen, growing 2 to 5 inches long and about 2 inches wide. The leaf shape is oval with a point on its tip and it is deep green and shiny. New gardeners often confuse the mountain laurel with the bay leaf plant, as they look very similar at first glance. When the new growth first forms on the top of the plant, it will have a beautiful bronze tinge to it for several weeks before turning to the wonderful dark shiny green.
Plant mountain laurel in a location with half a day of shade; the secret to the best plant is a location with partial winter shade. I have several at my house and they are planted under tall pine trees, in the back of the house where they receive late-day sun or near a stockade fence where it is also sheltered from winter winds. If you plant them where they will get direct sun during the winter months you will have a lot of leaf damage cause by the winter sun and wind, so select a sheltered area for happy plants and no winter damage. If you’re in a windy location, you can help your plant survive better during the winter months with 2 to 3 applications of Wilt Pruf or Wilt Stop anti-desiccant spray. You can also cover plants with sheets of burlap, if you live near the water, to cut down on the wind hitting the foliage.
Mountain laurel loves a moist soil but not standing water, so you'll need good drainage around the plant. A soil that is rich in organic matter like peat moss, animal manure or compost will be best. Remember these plants are native, growing in a wooded area where fallen leaves and pine needles cover the soil every fall and help to enriched that soil. In your garden, be sure to add 2 to 3 inches of bark mulch around the plant to control soil moisture during the heat of summer and to prevent frost damage as the ground begins to freeze and thaw all winter long.
The plant will flower before the new growth forms on the plant in July and August; those flower buds are on the tip of the branches. Now remember this, because if you prune your plants in the fall or early spring to control the size of the plant you will also remove ALL the flower buds from the plant. Pruning is done to control the size of the plant as soon as the flowers begin to fade on the plant in early July and not before or after! If your plants are getting tall, you can cut them back as much as 1/3 at the designated time in July.
Fertilize your plants in the spring with Holly Tone or Dr. Earth Rhododendron and Azalea Food with Pro-biotic every spring to keep the plants flowering and to increase foliage production for thick plants. Mountain laurel should not be limed, as these wonderful plants love acid soil! When first planted, water the plants 2 times a week until the fall of the year and if you can treat plants with two or more applications of Plant Thrive with mycorrhizae, it will help get them established faster and make them hardier for the winter. Do not plant mountain laurel if you have deer that frequent your property--they will eat them, unless your yard is fenced in.
Now for the big surprise about hybrids of the mountain laurel family: if you like this plant, I have a real treat for you, because the new hybrids come with red buds, pink buds and white buds. Some of the red bud varieties will have red centers, pink centers or even white centers. The pink bud types will have white centers or white centers with red or pink markings inside the flower. The new white hybrids will have white buds with red, pink or burgundy markings inside the flower. Today there are over 75 hybrids and new ones coming out every year. Some new varieties are dwarf, some have miniature foliage, and some even grow more upright than spreading.
Your average mountain laurel will grow as tall as 10 feet or more but with pruning the height can easily be controlled. This wonderful plant is hardy from Northern Maine to northern Florida and west to the Rockies. Plant with azaleas for early color; your rhododendron will bloom for mid-season color and then you have the mountain laurel for late color, April to July. Mountain laurel will look great if you are trying to create a natural look to your shaded property. They love to grow near stone walls and look great in the same planting bed as hollies, ilex and boxwood.
Try planting them in a shady perennial garden, a shady rock garden, or as a foundation plant around your home. And do plant some mountain laurel if you have a grouping of tall tines trees near your home. Mountain laurel are at their peak color now, so visit your local nursery and pick out the flower type you like best or choose several different types for a beautiful May and June garden show and gorgeous winter foliage. Enjoy!
The best and most popular yellow and orange flower in the summer garden is the marigold. Marigolds have been grown in more sunny gardens than most other flowers combined, and even a child can start a plant from seed on a windowsill. These bright and cheery flowers are easy to grow and reliable in all types of soil and weather conditions. Marigolds will flower from early June right up to frost and all you need to do is water and feed occasionally. No complicated or special fertilizers are needed, very few insects will bother them, and disease problems are minimal. Marigolds are a garden flower, not a cut flower, as the stems are too short on most varieties, but that is O.K. because you need flowers that do not stop flowering all summer long in the garden.
Besides yellow and orange, new hybrids now come in shades of red and even in white. The flower itself can be in the shape of a ball and round, single and flat like a poppy, flat with large petals on the bottom and with small petals clustered on the top, and so on -- your choice is almost endless. The color choices are just as endless, from solid yellow, orange, red and white or combinations of two or more colors on the same flower. You may think about height, but look no further as marigolds start from the 6 inch "Lemon Drop" and range all the way up to the "Giant African," measuring up to 6 feet tall when cared for properly.
Marigolds love the sun and when planted in full hot sun, they are at their best. Garden soils that are loose and pliable are best, but the more organic matter you apply, the bigger they will grow and flower. If you look at a seed catalog, you will see endless varieties of marigolds. Whether you are a new or an experienced gardener, plant some in your garden because once in the ground, marigolds will give you time to care for your other flowers in the garden -- they are that easy to grow. The main secret to growing marigolds is to remove the faded flowers. Marigolds make a lot of flowers and when the flowers fade, the plants make a lot of seed. Flowering plants have a goal to produce 50% of the weight of the plant in seed and then it can rest. If you continually remove the faded flowers, the plant does not stop flowering because it needs to make seeds, so remove the seedpods and the flowers will keep coming.
Water marigolds as needed, especially when the weather gets hot. When the weather gets hot, the plant will grow much faster than most other plants in your garden. Fertilize every other week with Miracle Gro and you will be amazed with the growth the plant makes. You can use Osmocote timed released pellets to save time in the garden as this fertilizer is releasing food to the plant every time you water the garden. Tall growing plants may need staking if planted in a windy location. Marigolds have a unique character and as the plant gets taller, roots will develop on the stem of the plant and grow to the ground to help stabilize the plant. I know no other annual that is able to do this.
I love the smell of marigolds -- it is so unique and once you know it you will never forget it, so blindfold me and let me smell the flowers. My wife cannot stand the smell, so I plant them away from her windows and she is happy. Did you know that bees prefer yellow flowers in your garden? Think cucumbers, squash, melons and tomatoes plants--all have yellow flowers. This year plant yellow marigolds in your vegetable garden and the bees will be able to find your vegetable plants better. The more bees in your garden, the more vegetables will develop. Try it and you will like it -- I plant marigolds in my vegetable garden and so should you! Enjoy.
If you are looking for a unique flowering tree with summer color and great looking seed pods in the fall, look no further than the goldenrain tree. This tree has never had the fanfare it truly deserves. I think that's because most of us are too busy during the summer months to enjoy trees that flower during the summer. But if you spend time at home on your deck, patio or at the pool, this is a plant you will enjoy during the hot days of summer. At a time when your gardens are at their best and your summer flowering shrubs like hydrangea, rose of Sharon and roses fill your yard with color, how about adding a tree that will fill your yard with wonderful flowers too?
The goldenrain tree will grow 30 to 40 feet tall and just as wide. The overall shape is much like the common flowering crabapple, with a rounded branch structure. When the tree is young, it does grow a bit irregular in shape but as it matures, it will fill in and quickly become one of your prized plants. The foliage is a rich dark green color with yellow veins running through it, giving it added interest. The leaf is also unique because it is what botanists call a "compound pinnate leaf" with 7 to as many as 15 individual leaflets making up each leaf. Each of the leaflets resembles a small oak leaf in shape. In the fall, the leaves will turn yellow in color, especially if you have several frosts to stimulate the color.
At the end of June to early July, flower buds begin to develop on the tips of the branches, on the new growth made during the springtime. The flower buds quickly turn a rich yellow and when they open, the entire tree will turn bright yellow--like a giant forsythia. Each flower is only about 1/2 inch wide and resembles a star with a pointed flower tip. These tiny flowers will fill the 12" to 15" long (and just as wide) flower spike panicles that will cover the tree, often covering all the foliage. The flowers will last on the tree from August to September, so get ready for a real show with this wonderful tree.
But that is not all...because when the flowers fade, a papery, three-sided lantern-like pod will develop where the flowers were on the tree. The pod or capsule will grow from 1.5 to 2 inches long and resembles an elongated heart. It will develop as a dark green pod, rich in color, and as the weather cools, it will turn yellow, then brown. These pods will hang on the tree for several weeks before the weather begins to break them apart on the leafless tree.
The tree is a fast-growing plant, usually well over a foot each year, if you can provide the plant with moisture from spring to the fall. The plant also loves a well-drained soil, so keep plants away from wet spots in your yard and bodies of water. This is a plant that loves heat, and it will tolerate drought conditions better than most other flowering trees that grow in your yard. Soil acidity is not a problem either as it will adapt to all types of soil conditions. Best of all, this tree will begin to flower when it is young. I have seen the goldenrain tree flower when it's only 4 to 5 feet tall, or 3 to 4 years old when planted.
Plant the goldenrain tree in the middle of your lawn as an accent tree, on the corner of a deck or patio for a bit of shade when it matures. It will also do quite well as a street tree because it will tolerate road salt very well. You can even plant several in a row to create a noise barrier or to give you privacy from the neighbors. If you’re planting in a grouping or a mass planting, space the plants on a 35 foot centers so they will have room to grow, but only 25 feet if you want to create a barrier or noise buffer.
When you plant the tree, be sure to condition the soil with compost, animal manure or peat moss. I also like to add Soil Moist granules at the same time to insure the roots stay moist as they become established in your yard. Water the tree two times a week from the time you plant it until the fall when the foliage drops from the tree. Fertilize with Plant Tone or Dr. Earth Tree Fertilizer with pro biotic spring and fall for the first 3 to 5 years until the tree is well established and growing well. Yearly fertilizing in the spring will also encourage additional flowers to form on the plant each summer. When I plant a new tree or shrub, I also use Plant Thrive to encourage quick root development so the plant can do better if the summer gets hot and dry should you forget to water the plant regularly.
After planting, make a ring of mulch 3 to 4 feet in diameter around the trunk of the tree to help hold moisture in the soil; this mulch bed will also help to prevent you from using the weed whacker to control tall grass from growing around the trunk of the tree. The weed whacker is a major killer of young trees, as the plastic strips that cut the grass will peel off the bark from the trunk of the tree killing it, because you are also cutting the water tubes that move water up the tree from the roots of the plant. Plant flowers in the mulch bed and this will also encourage you to feed the plant and water more often.
Insects and disease problems are minimal with this tree. You may have occasional Japanese beetle damage to the foliage during a bad season but they can be easily controlled with Garden Eight sprays or Japanese beetle spray when the problem begins--again, not a big problem. Yellow is rare for a flowering tree and even rarer for a summer-flowering plant so brighten up your yard this summer and plant a goldenrain tree. These trees are not available everywhere so make a few calls until you can locate one near you. Many of the larger nurseries can order this plant for you now if you ask them to. When you order a tree, ask them for the price difference according to the size of the tree and compare your options.
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The hottest gardening product for 2012! From existing plants to seedlings--THRIVE helps plants get off on the right "root." The beginning is often the most important part of your plants' lives. Maintaining soil quality for them to grow is imperative. Liquid Plant THRIVE contains a concentrated dose of the microbes already found in nature that will ensure a strong root system, require less watering and help you do your part for the environment.
|For more information, see the THRIVE website.|
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