Two weeks ago at our Master Gardener training class Dr. Jim Jacobi, an Auburn pathologist, discussed the many diseases–viral and bacterial, etc. that can afflict our beloved plants. One of those that really caught my attention was Rose Rosette disease. This is not a new disease but due to the widespread use of Knockout Roses in landscapes the plant pathologists are seeing a huge rise in outbreaks of this disease. Knockout Roses appear to be very susceptible to this disease. It is spread by a mite on wild roses but the mites are finding our Knockouts and having a field day. Symptoms of RRD are witches broom on the rose stem, red pigmentation of new growth, and excessive thorns. Before you completely panic, new growth on all Knockouts is red but when you have RRD the growth stays red. Up in North Alabama hundreds of roses were taken out of a park. There is no chemical to treat this disease. The only way to rid your garden of it is to get rid of the rose–root and all. Then throw it away, do not compost it. The disease is in the branches so good hygiene is really essential when you prune your roses. Clippers should be cleaned with chlorox.
Pay careful attention to the next sentence. If you are concerned you may have RRD in your garden, do not start tearing your hair and roses out. Please take a sample down to the great folks at our Calhoun County Extension Office and let them send the sample to the pathology lab.
Here is a link to a very informative article:
PUBLICATION 450-620. Rose Rosette Disease. Chuan Hong, Extension Plant Pathologist, Hampton Roads Agricultural Research and Extension Center ...
Our Master Gardener intern class recently had a soils class with Auburn professor, Dr. Charles Mitchell. Good soil is the backbone of a garden, whether that garden contains vegetables or flowers or whether the soil supports a beautiful stand of grass. When we talk about soil we are not talking about dirt (which is soil with all the nutrients and other good stuff removed) but about the soil.
Soils can vary from one neighborhood to another and even from one house to another. Since some plants thrive in a more acid soil (like azaleas and gardenias) and others thrive in lower acid soils (lilac), it is important to know more about the soil you have in your garden. Thus, the first thing all Master Gardeners (as well as any Extension Agent) will recommend when asked most plant questions, especially as the question relates to fertilizer, is that the homeowner do a soil test. It is very easy, relatively inexpensive, and the best thing you can do for your yard and soil and even for the environment. A soil test costs way less than a bag of fertilizer. Phosphorous in fertilizers can end up in the groundwater eventually polluting our waterways. Too much of the wrong kind of fertilizer can even hamper the health of your grass or your plants or your vegetables. If someone comes in and wants to fertilize your lawn without a soil test, just say no. Be an educated consumer. Get a soil test first.
Soil test kits may be obtained from your County Extension Office.
Feb. 18, Monday, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m, Calhoun County Beautification Board Tree Give-away at Golden Springs (Fred's Dept. Store)
Feb. 21, Thursday, 3:30 p.m., Arbor Day Celebration at JSU International House
Feb. 22, Friday, 3 p,m to 5 p.m., Tree Give-away on the Jacksonville Square
April 20, Saturday, 8 a.m. until noon, Master Gardener Tree Amigos 4-H Plant Sale, Cane Creek Community Gardens at McClellan
April 24, Lunch and Learn (4th Wednesday of each month thru September), noon to 1 p.m. Cane Creek Community Gardens, McClellan. First program is "Batty about Bats" and Vicky Smith from A to Z Animals is bringing bats for her presentation.
May 3, Friday, noon to 3 p.m. and Saturday May 4th, 9 until 2 p.m., Master Gardener 4H Tree Amigos Volunteers and the Anniston Museum of Natural History Volunteers Plant Sale at the Longleaf Botanical Gardens
Jacksonville Garden Club Plant Sale, date TBA
Someone said to me the other day that he guessed it was hard to make the garden inviting this time of the year. The winter garden does not have to be boring; it can be just as beautiful as the summer garden. Camellias, daffodils, mahonias, pansies, berries, bark, and even the form of bare branches can make the winter landscape as wonderful as your summer one. Join me at the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County for a program on the winter garden, Tuesday, January 22 at 2 pm in the Ayers Room. The program is free.
Come learn about the glory of winter.
Holiday buying is in high gear as shoppers crowd the stores and malls. Many are carrying out wonderful plants–Christmas cactus, poinsettias, and amaryllis. Lucky recipients or the shoppers themselves will decorate with beautiful living plants. To keep these plants looking their prettiest over the holiday season here is some information about taking care of them.
Growing an amaryllis always reminds me of the Jack and the Beanstalk story – that magical process as they shoot up in days once you begin to water. Amaryllis come in many colors from white to red to striped to pink to salmon. Last year I planted one called Apple Blossom; the huge pink and white striped blossoms were a delight for weeks. Producing a gorgeous plant is super easy– just a few simple rules. Amaryllis prefer a sunny window; water sparingly while it just begins to sprout and grow, increasing the amount of water as the stalk shoots up and blooms appear. Plant the bulb in a small pot up to its neck in good soil with good drainage; be careful of the roots when you plant. Within a few days of potting, watering, and placing it in the sunny window, it will begin to sprout. I turn mine frequently, so it does not lean too much towards the light. The leaves can get about 1 ½ feet long with the flower stem getting even longer. Be prepared to stake or you may find, as I did, that it will topple over as the blooms get so heavy. It usually takes about 7 to 10 weeks for the bloom to show, but part of the fun is watching it grow. After the plant flowers, you can make it flower again but this second flowering is more complicated. Cut off the old flowers, and when the stem begins to droop, cut it off. Put an amaryllis outside, after the danger of frost has passed, and keep it watered and fertilized. When the leaves begin to yellow in the fall, cut the leaves off and store the bulb in a cool place for at least six weeks. That place doesn’t have to be completely dark as, say, for a poinsettia. After six weeks, take out the bulb; plant it again and the cycle starts all over.
Our wonderful, probably most well known, Christmas plant, the familiar red poinsettia has been joined by ones with flowers in a rainbow of colors. I have seen white, yellow, polka dotted, even pink. In a poinsettia the colorful parts are not actually flower petals but bracts, which technically are modified leaves. Care of the poinsettia is a bit more difficult than that of the amaryllis. That care actually begins before you leave the store. Since the poinsettia flower is the small green or yellow bud that is situated in the middle of the bract (the colorful petals), you want to take a close look at that part first. Choose plants that have unopened flower buds, or those where the buds are just beginning to open. If these buds are dry or missing, your flowers won’t last much longer. Choose a plant that is full, with nice green leaves. Check the leaves on the underside for insects . And, here is something really important: wrap your poinsettia in a protective sleeve or a paper bag to carry out to your car as poinsettias hate wind and cold. Poinsettias do not like to sit in a freezing cold car for hours while you shop either. That time in a cold car could cause the leaves to drop early.
Now you have your flowers home. Here the old rule, the right place for the right plant, is again important. That right place may not be your best choice for display. So here’s what to do: keep it in the right place when company is not present, and than move it back to its display place when they are. Poinsettias love bright, not direct, sunlight–near a bright window but not in it. If the light is too low they will drop their leaves.
Okay, now for watering. Poinsettias don’t want to be too wet or too dry. If they get too dry they will drop their leaves; if they remain in standing water they will get root rot and drop their leaves. So it might be a good idea to make a few holes in the wrapping paper and set it in a saucer which is emptied after each watering.
Poinsettias also do not like to get too hot or too cold; they, especially, do not like drafts. All of this leads to the plant’s decline and loss of leaves. Set your plant away from the heat vents and away from outside doors. They would really appreciate the company of other plants or being able to sit in a gravel tray which has water in it–they will enjoy the humidity.
Now the rest of the story–what to do with the poinsettia after the holiday is over. In early April, cut it back to 6 to 8 inches in height and put it outside in the shade after all danger of frost has passed.. Water it and fertilize it when new growth appears. Prune it until September 1. You can repot over the summer but use a mix similar to the one it was already planted in, and bring it in doors before the weather gets cool. It is a challenge but you can get them to rebloom. They will need to spend some time in the dark, and I mean reallydark, from 5 pm to 7 or 8 am. And during the day they must be in bright indirect sunlight. Even if they rebloom, it is never like the first time, so I would just suggest enjoying them over the holiday, tossing them, and getting a new ones when the stores sell them again the next year.
My favorite movie of all time is Cactus Flower with Ingrid Bergman, Walter Matthau, and Goldie Hawn. It is the story of a prickly nurse who begins to bloom, just like the cactus on her desk. The last scene in the movie is a shot of her cactus blooming its heart out on her desk. And that is the story of the Christmas cactus. Last week I saw one that was so small it looked like a dwarf (but in full bloom) and staff told me hers was huge but never bloomed. What made the difference? I suspect the growing conditions, especially the intensity of the light. They love a sunny location indoors; they can summer outside in a shady location. Leaves can be burned by too much direct sunlight. When they come inside, change the light gradually. Cactus must have well-drained soil. There is soil sold especially for succulents but with some research you can mix your own. Refrain from fertilizing while the plant is blooming. The Christmas cactus is not a true cactus so the rules about watering are not the same. It is not quite as drought tolerant. But it is still a succulent and, as such, can store water in its leaves. Water when the top half of the soil in the pot feels try to the touch. How much you water, will vary according to the conditions the plant grows in. During the summer keep the soil evenly moist, but in the winter just to keep it from wilting.
In October give it no water. You can begin to water again in November but don’t over water. As many other plants do, your cactus would appreciate a bed of gravel kept moist with water. When your cactus finishes blooming, don’t water if for six weeks, and when it starts to grow again, resume watering. When the first growth appears in the spring apply liquid houseplant fertilizer in a weak solution every two to three weeks.
Cactus prefers warm temperatures; cooler temps can be used to get it to set buds. After October it does need cooler nights, so keep it away from heat vents, fireplaces. Repot your cactus when the pots are filled with roots in the same type of soil in which it has been growing. The best time to repot is in the spring but it can be done anytime. When you display it, keep it away from drafts and heat sources.
Many things can cause a cactus to drop its buds: overwatering, cold drafts, being too close to a heat source, or not enough potash in the soil. If bud drops, water sparingly. Although the cactus is easy to grow, getting it to bloom may be different story. For the best reblooming, try a medium light intensity, and a soil high in organic matter, being careful not to allow the soil to dry out and to water when the top begins to feel dry. Cool temps or long nights are essential to get a cactus to bloom ( nights near 55 degrees and days below 65 degrees. Some suggest that cactus plants should be kept in total darkness until flower buds begin (from late September to mid October). Do not fertilize and only water to keep leaves from shriveling. Once the buds form, bring the cactus out of the closet and resume normal care. Here is another example of deciding how important a blooming plant is to you for the holidays; in this instance I might buy a new one and let the old ones just keep it company.
A cautionary note on another favorite type of Christmas greenery – mistletoe. The berries are extremely toxic to humans and pets – so if you choose to use it in your home for decorations do so without the berries.
Enjoy these beautiful holiday plants, along with other offerings found typically this time of the year. A little care will keep them beautiful for weeks of pleasure.
Information used in this blog was obtained from sources on the Internet (web site for Fernlea Flowers), from publications from the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, and from "Garden Talk" featured in The Birmingham News.