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Garden Talk: Score a Tillandsia for the Holidays!

By: Sallie Lee

Question:  My family and friends long ago learned they will receive plants from me to mark special occasions, holidays, and the like.  Having gifted these gardeners by choice or by accident with a variety of trees, shrubs, bulbs, and more over the years, this time I’m drawing a blank.  The thought occurred that something different, that wouldn’t grow too large, wouldn’t have a lot of pest problems, and come to think of it, would do OK indoors, is appealing.  Any ideas that fit these criteria?

Answer:  Oh gardeners do love a challenge, either in choosing a plant to “gift” or one to grow! As it happens, I’ve been checking out a cute little plant recently introduced to me that has possibilities. Shocking as it may be to some, a favorite Tillandsia is grown in the southeast  – Spanish moss, or Tillandsia usneoides. Also called ‘beard lichen’, the plant is not a moss but an epiphytic flowering plant we associate with Live oaks.

OK, we’ve made that connection, but Live oaks don’t grow very well in central and north AL.  But as houseplants, ‘Tillies’ or Tillandsias do just fine.  So for gift giving to your plant pals this year, consider one of these funky, colorful plants.

In order to keep Tillandsias (also known as “air plants”) happy, keep in mind the three biggies to growing them: bright light (not direct sun however), good air circulation (really good), and water (they like humidity – think where Live oaks grow).

Since Tillandsia roots are primarily used to attach themselves to trees or rocks,  moisture and nutrients are absorbed through small scales on leaves called trichomes. Offering a wide range of sizes, shapes, textures, and bloom colors, some undergo dramatic color changes prior to blooming. A few are fragrant, so by choosing a variety of Tillies, which can be mounted to wildly varying mounting mediums, your fiends can get really creative with these plants!

Multiple Tillandsias at BBG Gift Shop courtesy Sallie Lee

While the plant itself is reason enough to grow them, we like blooms!  Color, size, shape, fragrance – like bees and butterflies, we’re bloom-oriented! Tillandsia blooms include bright yellow, orange, red, pink, blue, purple and white, with varying shades of all colors. Many of these plants bloom from later winter through midsummer – how’s that for a long bloom cycle?! While Tillies can be forced to bloom, some varieties don’t respond well to the necessary treatment and could produce less than desired results.  But Tillandsias do reproduce either by offset (pups) or seed. Music to the gardener’s ear, that means more Tillies without additional purchases! Some can have as many as 8 “pups” – how is that for a “litter”?  Separate offsets from the mother plant when about half the parent plant’s size, expect them to mature in about a year.

The most common mistakes with growing Tillandsias include not watering often enough, having them in too little light, and putting them in soil. If your giftee addresses these conditions, you may be giving another Tillie on request this time next year!

 

Tillandsia in bloom Courtesty http://www.airplant.com/

 

Garden Talk is written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Sallie at leesall@auburn.edu or call 205-879-6964 x11. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

Protecting My Garden Over Winter

For most of us, college football is in the rear-view mirror and so are our vegetable gardens.  I get excited about gardening in February and March, but after the heat of summer and filling my shelves and freezer with produce – I’m tired of gardening.  This year and last, I did not plant a fall/winter garden.  I know many of you plant a fall garden, but I bet the majority of us won’t look at the garden again until spring.  If you are like me and don’t want to tend a cool season garden, prepare your garden now for next spring; cover the soil in your garden spot.

As I travel through central Alabama in the winter months the vast majority of gardens I see are bare.  The soil is exposed to the elements; sun, rain, wind, and cold all take its toll on the garden.  Year after year soil exposure causes reduced yields in gardens.  Heavy winter rains can wash the soil right out of the garden.  Even if the rain doesn’t wash the soil out, it can wash all of the nutrients out.  Wind can easily transport your soil into the adjacent county if it is not protected.  Thirdly, winter weeds can overtake a garden with exposed soil.  Normally we don’t think about winter weeds because we just till them into the soil in the spring.  As I consider this, I think of the hundreds of weed seeds I just tilled into my garden, which will stay dormant just waiting of the light of day to sprout.  Instead of leaving your soil bare, try covering it with something.

Some years, like this year, all I do is rake all my leaves into my garden.  At 60’ x 30’ or 1800 square feet, my wife says ours is a large garden, however, it’s not too large to accept all of our leaves each fall.  Those leaves and the compost pile will sit on top of the soil until April, when I till it in.  Two weeks later I begin planting.  Some years however, I plant a cover crop.  Planting a cover crop in the unused portion of the garden protects and adds nutrients to the soil.  What plants should a gardener consider when planting a cover crop?  For that answer let us learn from hunters and wildlife biologists.  Every fall when many gardeners are laying fallow their gardens, many hunters are planting food plots, hoping to attract deer and turkey.  Extension has a great publication, ANR-0485, “Plantings for Wildlife” http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0485/ANR-0485.pdf used by hunters.  In this publication, wildlife biologists list the 50 top crops planted for wildlife.  In the list planting dates, seeding rates, planting depth, and growth type are listed. Nineteen crops are listed as cool season annuals; these are the plants to use as a cover crop.  Cereals such as barley, oats, wheat, and rye grow throughout the winter.  Brassicas such as rape, kale, turnips, and canola have deep roots and large leaves.  Legumes like Austrian winter & Caley peas; arrowleaf, ball, button, crimson, red, & white clovers; blue lupine, common and hairy vetch all add nutrients to the soil.  In the spring, all one has to do is rototill these plants into the garden, allow two weeks for decomposing, and then begin spring planting.  These cover crops in companion with any portion used for winter gardening will provide the soil the protection needed to over winter for next spring.

Garden Talk is written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964. Learn more about what is going on in Jefferson County by visiting the ACES website, www.aces.edu/Jefferson or checking us on Facebook and Twitter.  The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator.  Everyone is welcome!

Garden Talk: New Year, New Me, Better Garden!

By: Sallie Lee

Question:  One of my resolutions for next year is to get more exercise.  Another is to have a better garden than I did this year. I know gardening and exercise go hand in hand but want to feel that an improved garden will result in an improved me. Any thoughts or suggestions on the matter?

Answer:  Without overworking the mantra, gardening has long been associated with improved physical and mental health. Gardening is the sweat equity that produces those amazing azaleas, bountiful blueberries, or lawn that glows like green velvet.  We’ve been urged time and again to get more exercise, so improving a garden or lawn along with our physical health is truly a hand-in-glove relationship.

To stretch yourself and enhance the garden is a sound plan for the upcoming year, here are a few ‘how to’ suggestions.

Dig deep into the many resources available from experienced gardeners in our area. Pay attention to local experts who’ve mastered our particular and peculiar conditions.  Not that someone in California or Maine isn’t a good gardener, but they don’t live here and deal with the heat and humidity that characterizes our climate.  Certainly many techniques are the same, but why not check with local nurseries, botanical gardens, and Extension offices whose staff deals with the same conditions you do?

When you do expend the time, energy, and possibly funds to improve or enhance your garden, do it the smart way and put the right plant in the right place.  Make the calories you burn count toward installing or relocating plant material in properly prepared holes or beds. The plant benefits from its roots getting a head start, you benefit from, you guessed it, digging the hole. A plant, whether tree, shrub, bulb, or perennial that is forced into a site that isn’t ‘the right place’ may struggle bravely for a couple of years before sadly giving up the fight and either dying outright or developing stress-related conditions that slowly kill it.

Other activities that benefit both us and our gardens might include removing old leaf litter and debris lying on the ground. While dead leaves make good compost, if those leaves fell off a tree that was diseased by a fungus, bacteria, or virus, there’s trouble waiting right under our noses. Therefore, removing leaf litter gives muscle groups a workout and reduces the possibility of those fungi, bacteria, and viruses being an issue next season.

So far we’ve focused primarily on ornamentals, but consider the quality and quantity of exercises and benefits if our gardens include vegetables and fruits. Not only are we eating as locally and healthfully as possible, we’re pruning, stretching, pulling, turning, and bending in an effort to keep on top of any pest or disease that threatens our hard work.

Finally, according to the Centers for Disease Control, gardening is compared to “moderate cardiovascular exercise.” Gardening 30 to 45 minutes a day can burn 150 to 300 calories. This isn’t just standing there watering the flowers, but weeding, digging, hoeing, raking and planting.

What a great way to start the new year: improve us and our gardens!  So start slow and grow!!

Garden Talk is written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Sallie at leesall@auburn.edu or call 205-879-6964 x11. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

Alternative Leaf Clean-up: Leaf them there!

By: Kerry Stober

Question: Are there other ways I can utilize the leaves that are beginning to fall on my yard?

As Fall arrives and the trees begin their natural changes, we all start to see an excess of brown leaves appear on our lawns. Many homeowners dread blowing, raking, and bagging the leaves to dispose of them. Some may have services from their city or municipality that allows them to create piles near the street for later collection. A blanket of deciduous leaves left on your turfgrass for long periods of time can cause damage your lawn, so management is a necessary process.

To answer your question, there are definitely other methods you can utilize to keep your lawn healthy and the leaves at bay. The most common way without disposing of the material is to integrate the leaves into your compost; one point to mention- never compost leaves from plants that were showing signs of disease.

The main alternative method I want to share with you is mulching the leaves into the lawn. This way is less labor intensive than raking and bagging, and it also provides your lawn with valuable nutrient material! There has been research into the value of mulching leaves into the lawn which shows your grass will benefit over time from the decomposing leaves integrating into your soil. The leaves do not replace your regular fertilizer routine, but still have positive effects on growth and overall health. Mulching these leaves should not cause any damage or excess thatch when done properly. The main factor for mulching leaves into the lawn is using the proper equipment. Most riding or push mowers sold today have a mulching blade or deck that is made specifically for this type of purpose. You can also use a rotary mower, but you want the mower to allow the leaves to remain in place after chopping (not throw them to the side of the mower). Using a bagger attachment on the mower while mulching leaves, and then spreading them in a thin layer onto the lawn from the bag can work if your mower is a side discharge model (although this takes more effort on your part). You do not want the leaves to build up too much before mowing; any more than 2-4 inches is too thick. Wearing safety goggles and an air mask is always to good idea as mulching can produce dust and debris.

Hopefully the mulching method can save you time while also adding beneficial material in your lawn!

Garden Talk is written by Kerry Stober of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Kerry at KDS0010@aces.edu or call 205-879-6964 x19. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

Garden Talk: Awesome Osmanthus

Question:  I’ve been looking for plant material that will make a good hedge, but not one that looks unkempt very quickly, or become problematic because it spreads too fast.  It should be evergreen since it’s a hedge, needs little care or pruning, is not a water hog, no thorns or prickly leaves as my children will be playing near it, and have some seasonal interest other than being green.

Am I asking to have my cake and eat it too?

Answer:  Actually there are plants that fill your requirements, one in particular comes to mind. And if you’ve been to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in the past few weeks, you’ve likely encountered it as well.

Known botanically as Osmanthus, this shrub is also known as “Sweet Olive” or “Tea Olive”, occasionally “Holly Osmanthus”, or even “Devilwood” which is a species native to southeast U.S.

Incidentally, Osmanthus comes from Greek osma (“fragrant”), and anthos (“flower”), and was brought to Europe in mid-19th century by botanist Jean Marie Delavay.

Potentially as tall as a small tree, Osmanthus normally ranges in size from 7-35’ in height, leaves opposite, simple, and entire with serrated (think kitchen knife) to coarsely toothed edges.  Those tiny fragrant flowers develop spring through fall, depending on variety. For those who aren’t familiar with Osmanthus in bloom, the scent of peaches, apricots, or orange blossoms will point your nose in the right direction.

Tolerant of full sun to part shade depending on variety and location, Osmanthus handles a range of soil types, including our clay soils, with aplomb. Pruning, while not necessary unless to tidy up or remove damaged branches, is OK, as are even heavier pruning jobs but beware that they bloom on old wood so be careful of timing.  An Osmanthus shrub heavily pruned at the wrong time may take a few years to flower before growth matures to the point of blooming.

Though most fragrant Osmanthus sport clusters of tiny white blooms, a few varieties offer orange (O. fragrans aurantiacus), or yellow flowers (‘Butter Yellow’). O. x fortunei  or Fortune’s Osmanthus develops intensely fragrant flowers in fall, with ‘San Jose’ blooms offering color from cream to orange.

Not just a handsome hedge or fragrant flower, other regions of the world cultivate  Osmanthus for use as tea, wine, or medicine. Claims of improved complexion and ridding bodies of compounds linked to cancer, diabetes, and other diseases, in addition to providing a major component for “Osmanthus wine”, only add to the lure of this plant. Its other attraction is for honey bees, as they visit its blooms during periods when nectar and pollen are being stored to feed “baby” bees or when adults are tucking away stores for the winter.

Awesome Osmanthus?  You bet!

Garden Talk is written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Sallie at leesall@auburn.edu or call 205-879-6964 x11. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

2017 Farm City Poster, Essay, and Multimedia Contest

Marion County Rules: http://offices.aces.edu/marion/wp-content/uploads/sites/56/2017/08/Combined-Rules-1.pdf

State Rules: http://alabamafarmcity.org/

County Prizes Provided by the Marion County ALFA Farmer’s Federation

1st Place $50.00

2nd Place $25.00

3rd Place $15.00

**ALL submissions must be made to the Marion County Extension Office by October 31st, 2017. The Marion County Farm City Committee will select the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. 1st Place work will be submitted by the Marion County Committee for state submission. **

DUE: October 31st, 2017 to the Marion County Extension Office.

The Alabama Farm-City Committee is excited once again to offer a Multimedia Contest, Poster Contest and Essay Contest to Marion County Youth. The contest is sponsored by Alabama Farmers Cooperative and complements the Farm-City poster and essay contests by providing students another channel to express their creativity. The 2017 theme for all three contests is “Agriculture: Food for Life.” The 2017 National Ag Day and Farm-City Week theme of “Agriculture: Food for Life” captures the essence of farming. No other industry or activity is more connected to “life” than agriculture. Farmers produce the grains, protein, fruit, vegetables, nuts and dairy products that sustain life. The food we eat is literally fuel for our bodies. Without it, life would be unsustainable. But agriculture is intertwined to “life” in other ways, too. Private farms and forestland provide habitat and food for wildlife, and support the lives of all nature’s creatures. Through conservation and environmental stewardship, farmers protect the life-giving water, air and soil on which we all depend. Life, however, is not merely a physical existence. It’s also emotional and spiritual experiences, working together to provide a healthy, well-balanced life for Earth’s inhabitants. Agriculture provides food for the “lifestyles” we enjoy because modern farming and forestry practices allow 99 percent of Americans to pursue other occupations, hobbies and volunteer activities. Without farmers providing “food for life,” our economy and culture would suffer. Food is essential. Out of necessity, people would forego science, art and other pursuits if they were forced to gather or hunt their own food. In this way, agriculture is foundational to civilization. Still, agriculture’s contributions to life continue to expand. Through biotechnology, farming is improving life around the world. Disease- and drought-resistant plants provide “food for life” in some of the poorest regions on the planet. Improved plant and animal breeding addresses nutritional and human health needs. Farms and forests generate alternative energy sources. And agricultural products are utilized every day in not only food, but also pharmaceuticals, textiles and industrial applications. Agriculture touches every aspect of our lives. From the clothes we wear and the food we eat, to the homes where we live and the cars we drive, agriculture and forest products are ever present. Farmers help conserve the resources we need and the nature we enjoy. As we celebrate National Ag Day and Farm-City Week, it’s a great opportunity to remember the diversity of “Agriculture: Food for Life.”

 

Call or email the 4-H Agent with any questions regarding this contest. (205)921-3551 or rgd0007@aces.edu Office Hours 7:30am-12:00pm 12:30pm-4:00pm Monday-Friday

Fall 4-H Horse Camp October 21st

When: Saturday, October 21st, 2017 9:00am-3:00pm

Where: Alexandria Farms 850 Grady Williams Road Hamilton 35570

Ages: 9-18

Cost: $40

What To Wear: Long Pants, Boots/Tennis Shoes (NO open toed shoes)

Payment Due: Tuesday, October 17th by 4:00pm to the Marion County Extension Office 372 7th Avenue SW Hamilton, AL 35570

Forms Completed by a parent/guardian: Friday, November 4th 4:00pm

REQUIRED FORMS: http://offices.aces.edu/marion/wp-content/uploads/sites/56/2017/08/Horse-Camp-Forms-and-Directions.pdf

Map from Marion County 4-H Office: http://offices.aces.edu/marion/wp-content/uploads/sites/56/2016/10/Map.pdf

                        *Make checks payable to: Allie Trentham *

For more information call or email the Marion County Extension Office 205)921-3551 or rgd0007@aces.edu Open Mon.-Fri. 7:30AM-4:00PM 372 7th Ave. SW Hamilton, AL 35570 For more specific Horse Camp questions you can call Allie Trentham (205)495-2830

 

October 4-H Newsletter

 4-H Youth Council Members from our October Youth Council Meeting

Check out the October 4-H Newsletter to see what’s coming up for Marion County 4-H’ers: http://offices.aces.edu/marion/wp-content/uploads/sites/56/2017/10/October-2017-4-H-Newsletter.pdf

Contact the Marion County Extension Office (205)921-3551 or rgd0007@aces.edu for questions.

Garden Talk: Made in the Shade – Opportunities and Challenges

Garden Talk: Made in the Shade – Opportunities and Challenges

By Sallie Lee

Question:  I have lots of shade in my landscape that came with the house we recently purchased.  I love all the trees, wouldn’t trade them for anything, but want to add some color and texture to our “tree-scape”.  While my new neighbor, who happens to be a Master Gardener, convinced me that attempting to grow a turf-type grass as groundcover is not a good idea, what other options do I have that will add beauty and value to our house and property? How do I determine how much shade I really have?

Answer: While “full sun” is relatively easy to define in most situations, “shade” is a little tougher to identify.  Consider the numerous shade conditions, from “deep” to “high or dappled” shade, in addition to shade patterns. Seasonal shifts in the intensity of shade offer another factor to consider when assessing the garden’s shade quotient.

In assessing the shade or lack of in your garden, keep these parameters in mind.

  • Number of hours of shade
  • Time of day when shade is factor
  • Intensity of sunlight on a given area

 

Shade can be measured with a light meter, although using your own eyes over a 12 hour period usually gives a pretty accurate estimate.  Cloudy days not included, visit spots in your yard or garden that need assessing, count the hours and record observations on a rough drawing of your property for future reference.

 

If your yard is full sun without a tree or shrub in sight, skip this article because you’ve got your parameters.  However, if your space is typical of the majority of properties in this area, you’ve got some shade areas even if around that single tree in the front yard.

 

Generally speaking, full shade is less than 2 hours of sunlight, part shade or part sun gets between 2 and 6 hours of sun, while full sun is 6 hours or more.  Some experts extend full sun to 8 hours or more, but whether your follow the 6 or 8 hour model, plants usually let us know if they get enough sunlight or not!

 

We realize there are degrees of sun/shade in every category. As example, full shade still receives some ambient or natural light reflected off surfaces of nearby structures, large trees, water features, etc. Very deep shade indicates a limited palate of flowering plants, but offers the opportunity to incorporate foliage plants in the area. Be aware that areas of heavy shade can be dry as well, so check moisture needs for plant material prior to installing – some ferns would work in a lot of shade but need “regular” moisture to thrive.

 

Part sun/part shade is a catch-all category for areas where there’s some of both.  The time of day is important since morning sun is considered the way to go for many sun/shade plants as it is usually less intense.  The location of shade can be important for those plants that do best in “edge” or “dappled” shade conditions.

For those planting near lakes, ponds, windows, or light-colored walls, “bright” shade applies to establishing plants in those areas.

 

Most plant descriptions include a sun/shade preference. Read the label or tag if you’re not sure of a particular plant’s “happy” place, and if the site you have in mind is not even close to what’s on the tag, either put that plant back on the shelf, or remember caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware” and plan on experimenting.

 

Contact your county Extension office for more information regarding matching plants with place (right plant/right place) so your plant choices are appropriate and your efforts successful!

Garden Talk is written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Sallie at leesall@auburn.edu or call 205-879-6964 x11. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!