Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Criptic Cold Damage

Saturday morning as I walked around the yard I was surprised at all the new brown leaves on some of the plants in the garden. The low that morning was above freezing and the day turned out to be the warmest in weeks, a high in the 60`s and yet new brown leaves were everywhere!

The Rhapis excelsa at the front of the house had some brown spotting on the leaves that reached beyond the corner of the house. On the other side of the house my Cycas taitungensis that sits under the mystery citrus was heavily damaged. This same plant came through 18 degrees untouched while its more exposed sibling had about half its leaved burned.

Checking weather records for the previous week the coldest temp was 23 degrees a few days earlier, not enough to cause the new damage. I can speculate that it may have been the constant wind drying leaves pushed to their tolerance limits or it may be that the plants have been exposed to their maximum below freezing tolerance and are now beginning to show the damage.

The sago (C. taitungensis) was protected from the initial cold by the citrus, which is now losing leaves as a result of that cold. This more open canopy of the citrus tree may now be allowing the cold and wind to penetrate and Cycas taitungensis is very sensitive to drying winds in winter.

In the end this is all cosmetic damage, the brown leaves will be removed later this winter and the new growth will hide this winter sins.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More Late Fall Yellows l

I do not want to deal with winter, so I`m continuing to writing about the final blooms just before 18 degrees did most of them in. This little guy had been blooming away for a couple of weeks before the cold burned the flowers off and yet the plant is almost undamaged. The name of this delight full little bromeliad is Aechmea calyculata. His home is under an old sasanqua along with many other broms being tested for cold tolerance and he is one of the best!

The plant carries an 8" tall yellow drumstick flowers on a 1' tall plant. It`s leaves are a dark green because to its extremely shady location. I plant my broms here to keep winter frost off the leaves to prevent burning, but this year the cold and extreme wind created havoc and left many plants scorched.

None of the bromeliads are dead just damaged but some will begiven to friends with warmer gardens. I plan to keep A. calyculata and devide it come warm weather.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Yellow Bells

Now that the weather has grown cold it is time for some summer memories of warmth and bright flowers. One of my favorite tropical plants is yellow bells (Tecoma stans)! This is one of the easiest plants to grow and gives so much for so little work.

Yellow bells have a cluster of one to two inch lemon yellow trumpets at the top of the stem. My plants always freeze to the ground but by Memorial Day are 2' tall and beginning to bloom. The blooming season last till the first killing frost and I then cut them down.

I must let you know they grow fast and get 6' to 7' tall! The common type from the wet tropics grow a number of tall stems that are wands capped with flowers. A more refined look is the desert variety Tecoma stans angustifolia. This type has smaller flower clusters but the plant is bushier and each stem branches more often for a fuller look. The leaves are much finer cut and shinier making the plant more garden worthy than the tropical type. Best of all it is less likely to set seed and thus is not loaded with 6" bean pods by the hundreds.

The picture is of the desert yellow bell!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


The year of abundance, so much fruit that the trees are still full!A hot summer with regular rains must be citrus heaven. I`ve given bags away and still some of the trees are full, especially bad with the cold we been having.

The Kimbrough Satsuma has been picked, packaged for friends and eaten! The fruits were much bigger this year and extremely juicy but didn`t have the exceptional flavor of other years. I planted the the tree eight years ago and it has lived up to all the satsumas billing of a cold hardy delicious tree. She is grafted on a trifoliate root stock which adds to the cold tolerance and dwarfs the tree but she is no beauty. Satsuma have a lanky growth habit and send out long branches in any direction making them a sprawling plant.

The beauty of the dwarf citrus is the Nippon Orangequat! It grows as a tight mound spotted this time of year with hundreds of 2" bright orange fruit. I personally do not like the taste but many do. The fruit is eaten skin and all just like its kumquat ancestor. It will keep its fruit all winter dropping a few at a time until it blooms again in the spring. Early cold like this dries them but some will stay good all winter.

My poor Meiwa Kumquat would have needed another week to ripen, the cold has frozen them solid and they will dry out quickly now. It' like the orangequat and the satsuma is on a trifoliate root stock dwarfing the plant to a tiny 4'.

This year had a couple of firsts; my Changsha mandarin and Taiwanese lemon both fruited this year! The Changsha is a seedy Mandarin that bears small fruit five years after planting the seed.
The lemon is a year older and has so many fruits the branches are hanging at right angles to the main stem. It`s a sour seedy fruit but easy to grow and not likely ever to be hurt by my cold.

There is another citrus, the mystery tree that was supposed to be a sunquat(a type of lemonquat) but is gigantic. I purchased the seeds year ago from the now defunct Indoor Citrus Society from a reputable grower who must have also had a grapefruit in the yard. The tree and fruit are huge, the leaves look like grapefruit leaves but the plant is more cold tolerant. As to the fruit, they are as large as a grapefruit, yellow as a lemon and shaped like a pear. Delightfully smelling and tasting of both lemon and grapefruit but bland to the taste. The wind causes a little damage each year at the top but it always leafs back with almost no die back. A happy accident.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Green-Fly Orchid

This basket of green fly orchid and fern has hung under this live oak at work for eight years, prior to that it lived in a former garden of mine. The picture was taken a couple of weeks ago and quite often it has a late season bloom even at this latitude.

The basket is composed of pieces of bark containing orchid and fern, rescued after a storm and placed inside a wire basket with a coco-fiber liner behind the bark. I do not remember what the basket is filled with but I think it was regular potting mix. The fiber has long decomposed and other types of fern have moved in on their own but the orchids continue to grow pretty much uncared for.

The peak bloom is early summer with an occasional spike anytime while the weather is warm. The basket hangs out all year long and the only protection is the canopy of the live oak. It would be hard to find a simpler plant to grow, but it is a hard plant to find or purchase!

While hunting for fallen snags with orchids on them I quickly learned that deer are also fond of collecting it after storms and if I want to find it uneaten I better be willing to go wading in the swamps the day after the storm. It is worth the trials because it rewards you with blooms for very little care.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Fall Vignette

Just a quick flash of fall for us Southerners, since the trees won`t provide the color we let the herbaceous and tropicals do it. This grouping of Mexican cigar flowers, Acalypha Jungle Dragon and a variegated hibiscus in a pot provide the warm rich colors that give us that fall feeling . That is if we are transplanted Northerners.
The potted hibiscus was just brought in the house for the winter and cut back. I also took cuttings of the acalypha because it doesn`t always return from the roots. The cigar flower is just a good doer and will be back with the spring. So far there has not been a frost or freeze, but this far inland it will happen soon and I want to be prepared.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Favorite Ficus

All gardeners lust for plants we can not possibly grow in our yards due to some local factor, mine is the climate of N. Charleston. FROST! Tropicals are not fond of it and yet we gardeners try to grow them and ocasionally succeed.

Ficus auriculata is one of the triumphs! I first learned of this plant from a fellow palm society member who was growing it in Augusta,Ga.
If it could survive there it would do just fine on the coast.

The plant is fast growing and recovers rapidly in spring and reaches 15' by fall. In my yard it alway freezes to the ground but in milder situations it can survive because it is a cold/drought deciduous plant and thus has a dormant period that increases hardiness.

It`s a beauty, large dark green leaves that are large enough to give a garden that tropical look. My 8 year old plant produces ten stems all reaching heights between 10' and 15'.

I have tested many other figs for cold tolerance, some such as F. petiolaris and F. aurea survived the winter as root hardy but return too slowly to be garden worthy. These plants are the nothern most species in North America.

Ficus elastica is written to be a good candidate for colder areas but it also returns to slowly. Older books recommend this one often so the problem may be that todays cultivars have all been selected for slow or compact growth.

There is one other that is proving to be a good candidate and that if F. religiosa. This again is a plant that has a dormant period and also returns at a good rate in the spring. I have not had it long enough to give its ultimate heights but it has impressed me so far.

Since the Genus Ficus is so large there are probably many other candidates so let`s keep trying.