Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Stop Variegated Plants from Reverting to Plain Green

Variegated Hosta

Plants are green because of green chlorophyll molecules within the leaves that capture light energy from the sun and transform it into sugars and elaborated carbohydrates for plant growth. This is known as the process of photosynthesis.

Snow N Summer
However, attractive, ornamental landscape plants with variegated foliage have areas of white or yellow (or sometimes pink or other) that are lacking this green chlorophyll. The absence of chlorophyll means photosynthesis levels are decreased, and this can put stress on a plant. The straight green foliage is better adapted for growing and thriving.

All-green lacking variegation can
overwhelm the shrub hedge. 
This simplified version explains why variegated plants are often not as vigorous as their plain green forms (consider slow-growing green-and-white pineapple mint v.s. vigorous all-green apple mint, or variegated Chinese privet v.s. plain-green privet).

Crabapple LandscapExperts will prune out any leaves or branches that have reverted to green as far back as needed until the variegation resumes. This may involve pruning back to the base when necessary, or to the variegated region on a branch. The LandscapExperts know it is important not to delay, since the all-green shoots and leaves can grow to overwhelm the plant and turn it solid green if neglected.  Call your Crabapple Rep for advice at 770-740- 9739.

Green has almost taken over.
Call the LandscapExperts quick!  
Eliminate all-green via selective pruning
with hand pruners

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Light Pollution: Landscape Plants Affected by Bright Advertising Lights

Trees affected by light pollution

Bright golden yellow light emitted from advertising bill boards or street lights can adversely affect landscape plantings. Few of us give thought to “light pollution”, but three-fourths of Americans grow up without having seen the Milky Way. Laser light shows and fireworks have replaced the wonders of the starry sky. Human health can be affected by a lack of darkness, and other natural systems ranging from migrating birds to nesting sea turtles to disrupted cycles for oak and sycamore trees next to billboards are also becoming confused and threatened.

Bright advertising lights are not the same as landscape lighting. Ornamental landscape lighting is not intense enough to damage plantings. Benign types of landscape lighting include fluorescent, incandescent, low voltage, mercury vapor or metal halide lights.

Plant Symptoms resulting from bright intensity of high-pressure sodium lighting
  • Disrupted life cycles 
  • Accelerated plant growth 
  • Increased leaf size 
  • Faster flowering and fruiting 
  • Shoots that over grow, especially those nearest the light 
  • Delayed dormancy 
  • Leaves triggered to sprout too early 
  • Leaves triggered to hang on late, beyond the normal growth period 
  • Spring die-back resulting from delayed dormancy the fall before 
  • Clubroot development in some plants (cabbage) 
  • Alters the migration of night pollinators of landscape plants 
  • Insect decline due to “fixated or capture effect” of lights on insects  

up-lighting is bad
 Crabapple LandscapExperts can help you with a solution. We can install deflectors that will direct the lights away from your plantings. Just telephone your Rep at 770-740-9739.    

Digging Deeper
The International Dark-Sky Association mission is to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through environmentally responsible outdoor lighting. Their PDF is informative:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

20 Top Orange Flowers for Atlanta Landscapes - Choosing Orange Flowers for the Garden

Orange is an out-of-the-ordinary color for flowers in the landscape, but Crabapple LandscapExperts have developed quite a list of Orange Flowers for metro-Atlanta Landscapes, The color orange is light, brilliant and eye-catching, moving forward in the landscape and really attracting attention. 

Fall-Planted Spring Flowering Bulbs 
Orange Tulips 
Several bulbs come in a rainbow of colors but orange is a little more unusual choice for the landscape. 
Orange Hyacinths like Gipsy Queen are early bloomers, as are orange and yellow or orange and white daffodils. A favorite is Jet Fire, a miniature landscape Narcissus with an orange trumpet and yellow recurved petals that increases or multiplies rapidly from year to year. Orange Ranunculus comes in beautiful double forms, while tall Gladiolus are also pretty in orange as are the unusual Frittillaria.  

Although a woody shrub, orange native azaleas are fragrant, deciduous and unusual in metro-Atlanta landscapes and should be used more often. These hardy shrubs can fill the landscape with fragrance. 

California Poppies are spring annuals that often self-sow after the initial planting.  

More typical orange, spring-flowering herbaceous perennials include the Blackberry Lily or Belamcanda, along with Red Hot Poker or Kniphofia and Primroses or Primula that come in many shades including orange..
Asiatic Lilies
Lilies- Asiatic and Tiger Lilies are planted from bulbs and enliven the landscape. Plant some garlic cloves when installing to repel chipmunks and pine voles and keep them from eating the succulent bulbs. 

Remy Martin Rose
Roses - there are plenty of orange roses, ranging from coral through orange through pumpkin to red-golds. Crabapple chooses disease-resistance whenever available. 

Triple Orange Daylilies
Marigolds - small French or large African - are annuals and readily available at any plant shop and bloom reliably all summer. . 
Daylilies are one of the easiest to grow, long-lasting perennials for sun or shade and wet or dry conditions, and while orange is the original "wild" color, there are many options such as ruffled edges, diamond-dusting, picotee or other markings. 
Lantana 'Miss Huff' is a hardy selection of the shrub for metro-Atlanta. 
Butterfly weed is also known as Milkweed or Asclepias tuberosa and is important to plant for Monarch butterfly larvea to feast on. Other familiar orange perennials include Geum, Helenium, Tithonia and Cosmos. 

Dahlias, grown from tuberous roots, are available in a wide variety from large Cactus style to small pompom sizes and varieties with many oranges. Other plants that flower into the fall include Gerber Daisies, perennial 
Hibiscus and Flowering Maple or Abutilon. 

Foliage Color
aPerhaps most beloved for its brilliant fall color, Sugar Maple foliage is a bright contrast with a blue sky. Closer to earth is the riotous fall color of Fothergilla. 

Bignonia Tangerine Beauty
Crossvine or Bignonia blooms in spring and smells like "mocha",  while the Trumpet Vine or Campsis blooms in summer. Coral Honeysuckle vine is not invasive or aggressive. All of these orange tubular-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

10 Top Mosquito-Repelling Herbs and Flowers

Put Mosquito Dunks in water gardens and
eliminate breeding grounds
Now that summer is here, many homeowners and community managers are looking for ways to control mosquitoes. As the first preventative, standing water should be drained to eliminate breeding areas for mosquitoes. Mosquito dunks or mosquito fish are good to add to water gardens. Screen mosquitoes out of the house and sit in front of a fan when outside to blow lightweight mosquitoes away. A fabric softener sheet tucked into the sleeve also helps repel mosquitoes.  Tea Tree or Neem is non-toxic and is effective as a repellent. 

In addition to the discomfort of the itch, diseases such as the West Nile virus add to the problem.  Commercial sprays are available, but exercise caution with those containing DEET; when used by children adverse medical side effects can occur. Do not spray directly on the skin, but into a handkerchief or on a scarf, and wash off DEET repellents once you go back inside. Other  DEET-free sprays are based on citrus oils or other non-toxic ingredients. 

CrabappleLandscapExperts suggest that there are also plenty of easy-to-grow, natural garden plants that have some effect in repelling mosquitoes from areas of homes, condo communities, picnic areas, playgrounds and landscapes.

10 Most Effective Mosquito Repelling Plants
Simple to grow in metro-Atlanta.  

1. Lavender
One of the most delightful garden herbs, Lavender is "ever gray" and adds a silvery note to the landscape. In bloom the lovely lavender-colored flowers are fragrant, and remain so even when dried. Lavender is a familiar fragrance for soaps and perfumes, but it can also repel mosquitoes. Try rubbing the crushed leaves or a few drops of lavender oil on a hankie or towel draped over your chair to repel pesky mosquitoes. 

Give Lavender full sun, excellent drainage and an alkaline soil for best growth. In Atlanta this means the addition of coarse sand or Permatill to our Georgia red clay along with plenty of organic matter. A flowerpot full of pulverized dolomite lime mixed in with the soil offsets the acidity of the native soils. 

2. Marigolds
Pungent French Marigolds
Ubiquitous yellow- and orange-flowered annuals, marigolds are tough annuals for flower borders with a distinctive smell that mosquitoes (and some people) find offensive. A member of the Daisy Family, Marigolds contain Pyrethrum, a natural pest control compound used in many organic insect repellents.

Marigolds do best with full sunlight and ertile soil. School kids often start marigolds for Mother’s Day from seed, but starter plants are inexpensive and readily available at garden centers. Sometimes marigolds will reseed in favorable conditions. Crabapple LandscapExperts deadhead spent flowers throughout the season to promote additional blooms.

Marigolds grown in containers can be positioned at entrances, open screened windows, decks or patios, and the smell may stop mosquitoes from going past this barrier. (Since wasps are attracted to bright yellow, avoid putting marigolds on the table.)

In addition to repelling mosquitoes, marigolds are said to be a companion plant for tomato plants (although this may be hearsay), so a few planted in and around tomatoes may help and looks nice.

Additional Strong-Smelling Members of the Daisy Family (Asteraceae) 
Santolina, Wormwood and the genus Tanacetum (tansy, pyrethrum, feverfew), all offer some repellent qualities and are easy to grow garden plants. 

3. Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm smells like Citronella and is an edible herb in the Mint Family that grows easily in sun or shade in the metro-Atlanta area. Rub the crushed or minced leaves on legs and arms or on a cloth worn around exposed limbs to repel mosquitoes. 

When your mosquitoes are no longer a problem, make Lemon Balm Wine Cooler for a cool and refreshing summer drink

4. Ageratum
Blue Ageratum or floss flower
Also known as blue Floss Flower, annual Ageratum is a low-growing ornamental plant which reaches heights of 8 – 18” and is easily recognized by its lavender-blue flowers. This plant will thrive in full or partial sun and does not require rich soil.  Taller wild ageratum blooms in late summer or fall.

Ageratum secretes coumarin, a smell that repels mosquitoes and an ingredient widely used in commercial mosquito repellents. Crush the leaves of Ageratum to increase the emitted odor, but don't rub on the skin. 

5. Pennyroyal 
Fresh Pennyroyal is an amazingly effective natural mosquito repellent. This low-growing herb can be planted beneath a bench where shoes will bruise the leaves and emit the fresh minty smell, or in a vase as a cut flower for the table. Pennyroyal is also great against fleas and ticks. However, do not rub crushed Pennyroyal directly on your skin or on your dog's coat because it is extremely toxic to the liver of humans, dogs and cats.  

6. Bee Balm
Red Bee Balm or Monarda 
Also known as Oswego Tea, Horsemint or Monarda, Bee Balm is perennial plant in the Mint family gives off a strong incense-like odor, confusing mosquitoes by masking the smell of its usual hosts (warm people).

Bee Balm is a fast growing, shade-tolerant and drought-resistant plant that reaches a height and width of 2 – 3 feet with pink, red, rose, white or lavender flower heads that attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden. Bee balm grows in sun or shade and can be divided in spring or fall and given to friends or transplanted to other locations in the garden. Bee Balm leaves are also dried and used to make herbal tea.

7. Catnip
Catnip in flower 
Catnip is a natural mosquito repellent. Work at Iowa State in August 2001 found that catnip oil is ten times more effective than DEET, while in more recent work ISU has patented nepetalactone, the primary ingredient in catnip oil, in the search for a product to thwart mosquitoes. 

Nepeta cateria, is very easy to grow. This low-growing, lavender-flowered perennial herb is related to mint, and grows easily as a cultivated perennial in metro-Atlanta.

While catnip will repel mosquitoes in close proximity to the plant, some people apply crushed catnip leaves or catnip oil to a scarf or handkerchief for more robust protection. Or put 2 handfuls of catnip in the food processor, then add boiling water and white vinegar, and steep as a tea to brew a home-made mosquito repellent., 

8. Citronella Grass
Citronella Grass
Citronella (Cymbopogon nardus and C. winterianusis) is the real deal. Citronella is the most common natural ingredient used in mosquito repellents and its strong citronella/lemon/citrus aroma covers other smells that attract mosquitoes (such as carbon dioxide from exhaling, or lactic acid from sweating), making it harder for them to find you. Citronella is offered commercially in many forms including scented candles and torches, but fresh leaves have the strongest smell. Citronella is in the same genus as Lemongrass (Citronella citrates), and the tender white bases of the grass are used in Thai cuisine, while the long slender leaves can be woven into a fan. 

Citronella nardus is a tropical, perennial ‘clumping’ grass that grows about 3-4 feet in metro-Atlanta and does best in full sun. Like any grass, springtime applications of nitrogen-rich compost or blood meal will increase vigor. It turns a lovely rust color in the autumn that harmonizes with fall mums and asters. Citronella sometimes winters over, or if container-grown can be brought indoors during cold spells.  

Get your citronella from a reliable source and choose Cybopogon nardus or Citronella winterianus. Other plants may be sold as ‘citronella scented’, but these do not have the mosquito repelling qualities of true citronella.

9. Lemon Thyme
Creeping Lemon Thyme Flowers
Lemon Thyme has a greater concentration of citronella than the Scented Geranium widely sold as "fake citronella" or a mosquito repellent. Crushed leaves of thyme provide 62% of the repellency of DEET. 

Lemon Thyme is a hardy perennial whose tiny blooms attract butterflies and bees in season. Its spreading, creeping habit is good on pathways or trailing down the side of a container or large pot. 

10. Basil
  Pungent Basil has a strong aroma even without touching or crushing, and its use for pesto and flavoring of food is greatly appreciated. Pots of basil placed around the patio or deck are beautiful AND will help to keep mosquitoes away. Lemon Basil, Peruvian Basil, African Blue Basil and Cinnamon Basil are particularly strongly scented for this use. 

Claims for Scented-Geranium "Citronella" are greatly exaggerated! 
Scented-geranium (Pelargonium) sold as "cirronella"
Garden centers often sell scented-geranium plants in place of citronella grass. These tender perennials (Pelargonium) are offered in pots ready to transplant to a larger container or in-ground beds. However, the University of Georgia cautions that no scientific data backs up the insect-repellent claims, with only 0.09% of the effective oil in contained in the leaves. Dr. Arthur Tucker of Delaware State College says that repellent claims are greatly exaggerated with only 0.09% of the effective oil in contained in the leaves. 

Even without a repellent function, scented-geraniiums are wonderful, fragrant plants and are great houseplants or will occasionally winter-over in metro-Atlanta if temperatures do not fall below about 20 degrees F. Once established, new plants are easily propagated by cuttings and shared with friends and family after rooting. In addition to the "citronella-scented or lemon-scented geranium, there are many fun types of scented geraniums, from Rose to Coconut to Mint to Lime and more! 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tips for Back Yard Sustainability + Water Conservation

Healthful and sustainable landscapes. 
Homeowners Associations and Condo Communities are asking Crabapple LandscapExperts for tips about keeping water use low, recycling and applying organic techniques to boost their sustainability quotients, so the LandscapExperts have assembled some advice. Many of the communities we service are LOHAS communities, an acronym for “Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability.” This is a demographic focused on health and fitness, the environment, personal development, sustainable living and social justice. If you would like to schedule a presentation about this topic for your community, ask your LandscapExperts Rep.

Several components are crucial to backyard sustainability and water conservation.

Pinestraw mulch
Mulch is the primo, Number 1 way to conserve moisture in the landscape. Organic mulch insulates the soil surface, protecting it from water loss and temperature fluctuation. Ten Benefits of Organic mulch are discussed on our blog. A layer of 2-3 inches of coarse mulch is plenty. Spread the mulch out under the tree or shrub canopy, and keep damp mulch away from the bark of trees and shrubs

Recommended Types of Organic Mulch
Pine Bark Nuggets
Shredded Hardwood mulch
Cypress Mulch
No dyed mulch
No rubber chips mulch

Recycle Plant Trash by Composting
Make “Black Gold” a.k.a. humus, from discarded plants rather than bagging plant waste and having this valuable source of organic matter carted off-site.

It is easy to make organic compost because of the action of friendly fungi and beneficial bacteria that break down (rot) plants into rich, dark brown humus for you. The decayed organic material is used as a plant fertilizer, to improve the soil structure, and as a mulch. At the simplest level, the process of composting involves making a heap of damp organic matter (brown leaves, green weeds and veggie waste) and waiting for the materials to break down into humus after a period of weeks or months.

In composting it is pretty much WYSIWYG – what you see (add) is what you get. You can toss in a layer of topsoil or even cow or horse manure to contribute to the process and improve the finished product.

These Bad Actors Have No Business in the Compost Pile:
Diseased plants
Insect-infested plants
Chemical-laden grass clippings
Weeds loaded with seeds

When the compost looks like dark brown chocolate cake it has become humus, and it can be forked or tilled into the flower bed or used to topdress the landscape plants. Mulch can be applied over the top. Read more about how Crabapple LandscapExperts recycleplant waste and make our own deluxe compost

Water Conservation
Soaker Hose
Equally important to backyard sustainability is the wise use of water. Newly planted plants are the most at-risk members of the landscape, and must be watered once or twice a week if there is no natural rain, until they "become established." This term means the roots grow out of the original container root ball and out into the surrounding native soil to anchor the plant and to obtain water. Use a long-term watering sleeve for trees, or position a recycled gallon-milk jug filled with water next to the plant for immediate spot watering. 

Irrigation Systems
Have your LandscapExperts design and install a carefully monitored Irrigation system for your planting areas and save water. Or Crabapple can update or renovatie an existing irrigation system in order to greatly improve watering efficiency

The LandscapExperts often discuss water-wise irrigation tips:
Test for moisture
Make sure the soil doesn’t crust over
Don’t over water
Don’t waste water
Water deeply after long intervals (once a week)
Water in the morning
Focus on the most important area of the landscape (often the front)
Use cool water
Choose the right tool

Soaker Hoses 
The use of soaker hoses. The Soaker Hose technique was developed in the arid Israeli desert in the 1940’s after WWII. Water seeps or trickles out of a semi-porous hose at a very slow rate that the soil can completely absorb with zero runoff, thus efficiently making use of every drop of water.

A simple, inexpensive, manual timer on each outdoor spigot is invaluable in restricting the amount of water to a targeted amount.

Water Breaker Nozzle or Shower Nozzle
Water Breaker or Shower Hose Nozzle 
Conserve water with the proper watering tools, Direct, hand-watering the roots of the plants using a water breaker nozzle for a gentle shower (those hard jet sprayers or fine misters need not apply) uses the minimum amount of water but achieves the maximum effect. 

Water Wand
For homeowner gardens, a 3-foot water wand directs the water to the plant roots for improved efficiency. Water the roots, not the leaves. 

Plant Selection
Choose the right plant according to sun or shade and moist or dry soil conditions
Replace thirsty Fescue lawns with better-adapted Bermuda or Zoysia turf
Choose native plants that have evolved in these climate conditions over millinea 
Slow transporation (evaporation of water from leaf pores) with waxy-leaved plants

Strategic Use of Shade
Protect your landscape from the heat of the sun by utilizing or planting shade trees.

The many strategies that Crabapple LandscapExperts employ can help the backyards in your community to be more sustainable!