Episode 42 – South vs. North gardening, managing fire ants, and garden photography with Adriana

Ground Breaking Banter - Rick

I had a chat with author, radio host, garden designer, and friend Teresa Watkins of Newsradio WFLA in Orlando, Florida to help me put in context gardening experience in the South vs. the North! Here’s what she shared with me: 

The big difference in North versus South is in the South, you can garden year-round and have something blooming. The flip side is that you also have maintenance year-round with increased disease and pest pressure, plus watering, weeding, and pruning. Of course, this is a boon for the landscape maintenance industry.

In the South, not only can you landscape with tropical plants like hibiscus and bougainvillea, you can grow cool-season annuals like pansies, lobelia, and alyssum in the winter months. Lantana grows like a shrub, and you can put out crotons in the garden for a splash of color. Kevin Hurd, director of new plant development for Proven Winners annuals, commented to me last week that they plant out annuals in winter in Florida to screen for cold tolerance.

Listen to more on our conversation about gardening in the South versus the North in our podcast or YouTube show (linked below).

Why: Long associated with the South, crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia indica or L. fauriei) is one of the most colorful, exuberant, and beautiful heat-tolerant flowering shrubs or trees you can get. And when it comes to crapemyrtles, it’s hard to find one showier or more memorable than Center Stage Red crapemyrtle from Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs. We made it our goal to develop a black-leafed crapemyrtle that resisted the fungal diseases that often plague and disfigure other varieties. And we succeeded! Trials in our greenhouses, as well as in Florida, have shown it to keep its luscious color, unmarred by the cast of powdery mildew. I picked Center Stage Red crapemyrtle for today’s plant on trial because well, it’s my favorite – I’m a sucker for bright reds in the garden – and because the contrast of those red blooms with the black foliage make for a truly unique color combination. High performance, high impact – what more could you ask for?!

Who: Center Stage Red crapemyrtle was developed right here at the Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs facility in West Michigan by plant breeder Megan Mathey. We interviewed Megan on last week’s episode, and she said that the Center Stage series of crapemyrtles is one of her proudest achievements in her career with us so far. 

How to grow: Like most crapemyrtles, Center Stage Red should be grown in full sun – at least 6 hours of bright light each day. Not only will this result in the most flowers and best leaf color, it will also help it achieve maximum disease resistance, too. The Center Stage series is a shrub type, rather than tree type, of crapemyrtle, so it has a full, multi-stemmed habit that reaches 6-12′ tall and wide. We don’t recommend pruning it (and certainly don’t commit “crape murder”) as a matter of course. We have the Center Stage series labeled as hardy from USDA zone 6b-10; it has survived multiple winters here in our USDA zone 6a trial garden, though it may die back to the ground after harsh winters. If this happens, not to worry – wait until the new growth begins to emerge, then cut back and woody portions above ground that aren’t showing signs of life. Though the plant will tend to be shorter if grown in these conditions, it will still grow, flower, and thrive once the weather warms up in spring. 

If you’d like to add Center Stage Red crapemyrtle – or any of the 320+ Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs – to your garden or landscape, you’ll find a list of local retailers here

Gardening Mail Bag - Stacey

Marcia, one of our listeners, reached out and shared a photo of her sister-in-law’s jade plant that they believe to be 100 years old. Amazing! Jade plants are a good candidate for passing along through the generations, as they are so durable and easy to grow that even if you get a relative who maybe isn’t the best at maintaining houseplants, it’s got a good chance of surviving until it reaches someone who is!   

You can see in the photo that Rhonda sent us that there are yellow leaves all over the ground. There is an insect known as the maple petiole borer that can often cause this damage in May and June here in Michigan. This native insect lays its eggs in the petioles – the stems that connect the leaf to the branch – of maple trees. They hatch out, eat the tissue in the petiole, and when they are ready to emerge as an adult wasp (a harmless adult wasp!), they eat a hole through the outer layer, causing the leaf to drop. This won’t harm the plant but can be distressing to see. You can tell if maple petiole borers are the cause if you examine one of the fallen leaves and find that it has broken off in the middle of the petiole rather than making a clean break at the point where the petiole meets the branch. If you find that the leaves have fallen at that point, it’s most certainly due to drought or other stress – by shedding leaves, a tree reduces the amount of water it loses during photosynthesis, conserving its resources to weather any stress that may be occurring. If the fallen leaves are attached to small, thin branches, the culprit is almost certainly squirrels. 

A large maple tree with a number of fallen green leaves below it.

Though phlox is notoriously prone to powdery mildew, that’s not the case as far as I can see in your photo here. No, I think the leaves are yellowing through a combination of drought/water stress and shade. You can see the plant is densely foliated – this means that many inner leaves become shaded and hence less effective at photosynthesis. The plant then translocates and stores the energy from the chlorophyll, turning the leaf yellow before it eventualyl drops. From what I can see here, your plant is healthy and there’s no cause for concern.

The base of a phlox plant showing several stems with yellowing foliage.

The key to success with managing ants is that the queen ant must be killed. If she is not, the problem will not go away because she can keep making new worker ants. And of course, the queen ant is protected deep within the nest, so treatments like diatomaceous earth and vinegar, which must physically contact the ants to have any effect, won’t work. While I understand and support the goal of avoiding conventional pesticides, in the case of ants – and especially fire ants, which can harm people and pets – it’s best to just manage the job as effectively and quickly as possible with an ant bait. The great thing about using ant baits, though, is that they don’t pose a threat to “non-target organisms” (i.e., anything that’s not an ant) and since they are intended to be collected by the ants and fed to the rest of the colony, including the queen, they disappear quickly once they’ve been put out. Your plant won’t take up any residual from the treatment.

Do you have a question for us? We’re happy to help! E-mail us or use the contact tab above.

Branching News - Rick

Today, we turn the camera around and interview Adriana Robinson, our engineer and producer. When she’s not working on the Gardening Simplified Show, she’s the photographer and videographer here at Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs. We lean on her experience and expertise to teach us about the art and science of garden and flower photography. While we only had time for a short version on the radio program, tune in on YouTube for the extended version of this fun, informative interview.

Pink rose of Sharon flowers bloom on a plant with variegated foliage.

Episode 92 – Weeding by Example

Ah, weeds – maybe the #1 thing that discourages people from gardening. But weeds are interesting and become a lot easier to manage when you apply some basic IPM principles. Featured shrub: Sugar Tip rose of Sharon.

Read More »