Night Blooming Jessamin Cestrum Nocturnum “Orange Peel” and a Garden Visitor

For those of you who have suffered through my below average photography skills, I am proud of today’s post.  I went to a plant sale at the Dallas Arboretum in 2007.  It was the last day of the sale and what was left were mostly annuals.  I don’t spend a lot of money on annuals because when building your garden, they are just not a good investment.  Perennials are the stable in any flower garden as they are mine.  I did find a tiny little plant labeled Cestrum Nocturnum “Orange Peel”.  The very informative lady at the table said it was part of the nightshade family, had small orange flowers, was frost tender, and liked a little shade.  So I grew it in my shade garden since this last season with disappointing results.  It did grow but did not flourish and never flowered.  This year I decided to move this plant (commonly known as a Night Blooming Jessamine, still a mouthful to say, to my cutting garden for more sun and hopefully it would survive winters without as much protection.  To my delight it has bloomed for the first time and seems very happy where she is.  I have not ventured out at night to experience what is described as an intoxicating scent but will soon enough.

This plant is a woody shrub with long sword like nearly evergreen leaves and small syringe type orange blossoms.  The bees seem to love them.  I took a picture of the first blossom (below) and didn’t notice the guest appearance until I saw it on my computer.

You have to look closely to see him but he is nevertheless there laying in wait, camaflouged and ready to pounce.  Now I don’t see a lot of insects except roly polys and the occasional mosquito.  You would think as an organic gardener I would have built an encyclopedic knowledge of garden pests and beneficial bugs.  I haven’t.  The truth is I don’t really care unless they are doing major, concentrated damage.  Then I look it up, figure out the best strategy (usually soap or insecticidal oil) and go with it.  So I can’t tell you what this guy is but he looks like a predator to me.  So welcome to my garden and bon appetite.

Tasty gardening and remember to “bee” positive!


Day 2 for Winken, Blinken, and Nod

This is the last day for a while that I will blog solely on the triplets, I promise.  It’s just that they are so darn cute!  I am happy to report that Nod finally joined his brothers for mealtime and mom and dad seem tireless at providing worms all day long.  Here they are on day 2 looking fluffier and more active.  I watched as the parents bravely drove away a Grackel who had just come for a drink and a bluejay who looked decidedly suspicious.   At the same time they graciously allowed mourning doves, cardinals, and a few finches access to the yard.  Here are the newest pics:

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Tomorrow I promise back to serious gardening efforts.  I really have to because my flora residents are becoming a little jealous of all the attention to the new family of Robins.  How do I know you ask?  What – have you never heard the term “green with envy”?   Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha.  Seriously, back to normal tomorrow.

Happy Gardening and remember to “bee” positive!

A Surprise in the Garden: Bloodgood Japanese Maple

I love my Bloodgood Red Japanese Maple.  It is the jewel of my shade garden.   Not only is it beautiful on its own but it was given to me by a very special friend who is dead now so I treasure this tree all the more.  It was over 6 feet high when I got it and I have had it for almost 3 years so I figure the age of the tree to be between 10 and 15 years old.  Every spring it bursts forth with bright red new foliage that looks like it is illuminated with an internal light so bright are the leaves.   In summer the leaves calm to a plummy burgundy.  In fall just before the leaves fall for the winter, they are a bright crimson again.  My Bloodgood Maple is now over 9 feet tall having grown about a foot a year which is pretty amazing for any Acer Palmatum (Japanese Maple) as they tend to be a slow growing, ponderous lot.

In keeping with its Japanese heritage, I have pruned this tree much as you would a Bonsai creating separate “clouds” of leaves so that the tree mimics its larger surroundings.  This kind of pruning is truly an art I have come to appreciate but not master.  Here is my Japanese Maple demonstrating my plebian efforts:

I have decided that now that the form is airy and I have established my leaf “clouds”, perhaps I should just let it grow for a year or two and fill in.

I was surprised this spring, and I am embarrassed to say this, by a number of twin set seed pods growing on the tips of the branches I have allowed to remain on the tree.  What I mean is that surely as a tree, even Japanese Maples produce seeds of some sort but I have never see them on a Japanese Maple nor expected them at all.  In fact I thought it likely that the Bloodgood Japanese Maple is a hybrid and might therefore be sterile.  Nevertheless, the seed pods have arrived this year a bright cherry red standing out against even the leaves and looking decidedly aerodynamic as each set of two seeds have corresponding “wings” which will likely helicopter the babies a respectable distance away from the mother tree thus eliminating any competition to her.  They look like this:

I do not intend to collect the seeds and grow them as I am not interested in an 8-10 year endeavor to have produced a respectable sized offspring.  I will however let the seeds fall where they may and I will be on the lookout for the seedlings as I tend this portion of the shade garden.  Who knows, maybe I will end up with a whole grove of awkwardly pruned Bloodgood Japanese Maples!

Happy Gardening and remember to “bee” positive!

Rockin’ Robins: A Closeup on the Domestic Life of Nesting Parents

It is raining today.  Not hard but I no longer mind it because we will be grateful for it this summer.  I watched all day as Mr. and Mrs. Robin sat dutifully on their nest sheltering their eggs.  The nest is quite exposed to the elements and these determined parents literally became the roof that sheltered their offspring.  I have some pictures of my little Robin family I took over the last couple of days.  I try not to get to close or stay too long so as not to stress them out unduly.

This one shows exactly where the nest is.  Instead of choosing a home among the innumerable branches of my Live Oaks, the family chose instead an exposed seat atop an old swing frame I use to hold back my Pyracantha:

Now this one might be a little embarrassing to the new parents because it displays a possible defect in Mr. Robin’s construction skills.  Rest assured however, the nest is neat as a pin on the inside.

The eating habits of both parents seem to vary with the time of day.

Mornings are reserved for hunting worms in my beds close to the nest with head close to the ground, flipping leaves to find a juicy insect.  Afternoons are for foraging further afield or perhaps grabbing a quick wild strawberry from my hosta beds.

This last photo is a close up of Mrs. Robin on the nest.  I was very close to her but she bravely stayed where she was.  Here she is giving me the stink eye for being so close:

I love this pic and currently have it as my wallpaper.

Well that’s it for today.  Happy birding and remember to “bee” positive!

Risky Business: Pruning Hydrangeas

This spring my hydrangeas are showing the effects of last summer’s heat wave and drought.  The winter was very mild and wet but many of the old growth from last year has died back.  Fortunately most of my hydrangeas bloom on both new and old wood but it is still a little scary to try and prune off the dead growth while leaving any potential blooms from last year.  This article from Mike McGroaty was very timely and helpful and I thought I would share it with you.

Hydrangeas are one of the most striking plants you can add to your landscape because they produce enormous and often colorful blooms.  But when to prune them is confusing because they are complicated!

But first, let’s set the record straight about pruning in general and Mike’s Rule of Pruning”.  The only time you need to be concerned about when to prune is when you are concerned about cutting off flower buds.  Cutting off the flower buds is not going to hurt the plant, it just means that you won’t see any flowers this season if you prune at the wrong time.

On the other hand, “Mike’s Rule of Pruning” is; “if it needs pruning right now, then by all means prune it and worry about flowers later.  The damage from not pruning is far worse than any damage you can do with a pair of pruning shears.

I’m serious about that.  Most, and I don’t mean some, but most landscapes have trees or shrubs in them that should have been pruned a long time ago and weren’t and now they are detracting from the landscape.  So if it needs pruning, then please prune it now.

Okay, so why are Hydrangeas so complicated?  Because some of them flower on new wood, and some flower on old wood.  Those that flower on new wood should be pruned in the fall after the blooms are spent, but you can prune them in the fall, or early in the spring because they aren’t going to make any new flower buds until the following summer.

Hydrangeas that flower on old wood should be pruned right after they bloom because as soon as they are done blooming they start making new flower buds for the next season.  If you prune them after that flower bud production begins you might cut off next years flowers.

And that makes them complicated!  At least for me.

Mike!  Whaddya mean new wood and old wood?

Looking at your hydrangea in the early spring, before the leaves appear, everything you see is old wood.  It’s growth that appeared the previous year or even earlier than that.  If your hydrangea is one that flowers on old wood, the flower buds are already formed.

Any growth that appears once the plant starts blooming is considered new wood continues to be considered new wood until fall.  Then the wood is harder and will soon be considered old wood.

Confusing right?

For instance, Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ starts getting new leaves and new growth in April.  (zone 5) The new branches continue to grow until about mid summer.  Come mid summer the branches stop growing and at the end of each new branch a flower bud starts to appear.  The flower bud is being produce on the new growth, commonly called new wood, or current seasons growth.  The flower bud production happens very quickly and the huge flower opens and dazzles the world.

Because hydrangeas like ‘Annabelle’ bloom on new wood you can prune them from the time they quit blooming in the fall until spring when they start putting on new growth.  Once the new growth comes in the spring you shouldn’t prune them, but even if you did you might still get blooms later in the summer.

Nikko Blue Hydrangea on the other hand is in the Macrophylla hydrangea family and it flowers on old wood. That means that as soon as it is done blooming that’s when you should prune it.  The pruning window is much shorter.

Most of the popular hydrangeas are in the macrophylla family and bloom on old wood, but there are exceptions like Hydrangea ‘Forever and Ever’ which blooms on both old wood and new wood.

Most of the big white snowball hyrdrangeas like ‘Annabelle and Paniculata Grandifloria’ bloom on new wood.

When pruning hydrangea you can cut them back as hard

as you need to.  They are very easy to maintain a given size

if only you are willing to prune them that hard.  Really hard

pruning is best done when the plant is dormant during the

winter months.

I hope this helps.  Watch your hydrangea and see where the blooms come from.  Or take a look at this page from the United States National Arboretum.

Great photos and a ton of information!

Take care and by all means stay inspired! -Mike McGroarty

P.S.  I Really Wish You’d hang with Me Here.

McGroarty Enterprises Inc. P.O. Box 338 Perry, Ohio 44081

Happy Pruning and remember to “bee” positive!

I Love This Plant: Confederate Jasmine

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I wish the internet had smell-o-vision!  Someone should invent it just to smell the jasmine every spring. This is my favorite time of year especially because of the jasmine.  It blooms this time of year adding dainty white blossoms to the dark green glossy leaves.  But don’t be fooled!  These tiny flowers bring the perfume.  I have planted jasmine several places in my shade garden selecting the hardiest of the jasmines – Confederate Jasmine.  Winters are pretty mild here but we had a pretty brutal one in 2010-2011 and I lost an Asiatic jasmine but my Confederates survived with only some die back.  And the drought last summer didn’t even effect them.  They are a little fussy needing shade and acid soil for which I have to amend the alkaline clay we have around here.  But, this time of year makes it so worth it!  I have the doors and windows open just to enjoy the scent wafting in on the breeze.  It is truly heavenly! Makes me glad to be in the South.  In addition, jasmines are evergreen, drought tolerant, good climbers though not invasive and a must on my plant list!  Since my garden is so shady, I have cut “windows” in the fence where possible, covered the hole with fencing wire and planted a jasmine.  They love it!

Heavenly gardening and remember to “bee” positive!

Fall Gardening Chores Continued and Portrait of a Toad

So I have been working on my fall gardening chore list.  Today I completed the following:

  • Prune those pesky suckers under the live oak tree.
  • Build up azalea bed

In addition I raked and picked up leaves in the shade garden and pruned a very out of control Pyracantha.  I felt a little bad since the Pyracantha is in the shade garden, only the tops of the vines get enough sun to produce berries which are a favorite of the birds.  But what’s done is done and my neighbors will more than compensate this winter with birdseed and bread crumbs.  I also dug up six Sum and Substance Hostas that I planted under a Live Oak Tree and then neglected.  It is a wonder they are still alive with very little supplemental water and no slug repellent.  I transplanted them in the Japanese Maple bed with the other Hostas and have given up any real variety in that bed.  And why not? I love Hostas and they, the wild strawberries, and one lone wild ginger grow in that bed.  Good enough.  Although the leaves are bare and torn, the roots on all six are strong so they will be beautiful next spring.  Sum and Substance Hostas are among the largest of hostas with blue-green leaves the size of dinner plates.  They don’t grow that large here in the Texas heat but they are still formidable in size and both their foliage and flowers are a favorite of mine.  Besides, for some reason, slugs prefer green-leaved hostas so these will do just fine.

I had a real dilemma today though, my tiny pond which is now the home to hundreds of little tadpoles was drying up.  It barely had a foot of water in it.  My internet research states that chlorine is deadly to tadpoles and to leave tap water standing for at least a week before adding it to the tadpole habitat.  Unfortunately, it’s only been four days since I filled a five gallon container with tap water and it is almost half evaporated so I was fighting a losing battle.  So I took a chance with water conditioner for fish bowls and aquariums which de-chlorinates tap water and also adds a nice slime coat to fish.  Not sure about the slime coat but I hope the water was sufficiently prepped so as not to kill the little tads.  As I poured a total of ten gallons of water into the pond, out jumped what I can only guess is the momma frog-or toad.  She held still for quite some time and her color matched the rocks so well that all four of my dumb dogs came within a foot of her and never even knew.  I took lots of close-ups of her.  I only know how to add one gallery of pics so the hosta transplants, reclaimed areas of my garden, and momma toad pics are all in the slideshow below:

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BTW I checked back later and the little ones are still wiggling around disturbingly not unlike sperm.  So I think I did not mass murder them.  Time will tell.

Happy toad farming and remember to “bee” hoppy!