Eranthis emerges

Every spring, I wait for my winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis, to emerge. They take forever.

eranthis non macro

I adore these tiny flowers. And for me, they are truly tiny: the blossoms are perhaps half an inch across. They are supposed to be among the first spring flowers, but mine always follow my snowdrops and crocus by about a month. My first one of the season finally emerged this week.

I am impatient to acquire the drifts of these plants that one sees in those gorgeous English gardening magazines. It will be a long time coming, I know.

So, it’s time for me to properly get a grip on good winter aconite culture. From all I have read, the tubers do not like to dry out, yet they require good drainage. Morning sun is fine, and the bases of deciduous trees are ideal places to grow them. Plant them “in the green,” which is to say, blooming (or not in the form of the tubers one will obtain from the mail-order catalogue), and they’ll take off. So they say.

Eranthis hyemalis

My present three-part theory as to why I have about five flowers instead of the full carpet I should have is:

  1. They should be sited elsewhere.
  2. Perhaps they get a bit too hot in summer
  3. Not enough lime.

Their present site is on the south side of the house, which doesn’t get as much sun as one might expect because the bed where they grow is shaded by my neighbor’s large oak trees from early May through November. They should get enough moisture, as they grow near my roses which I should water more but do well enough. Yet perhaps the roses drink all the water up, leaving none for the Eranthis tubers. I am sure they’re being disturbed too much, partly by me, and mostly by the perpetual encroachment of Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ into their territory. I am astonished at how robustly Crocosmia self-propagate.

Hot in summer? Perhaps. They’re well shaded by trees and the foliage of everything growing around them–Crocosmia, Iris germanica, roses, kniphofias. But where I live, temperatures in summer stay above 90 (32 C) during the day for weeks at a time, and perhaps most critically, don’t cool off at night. Nighttime temperatures regularly stay above 68 (20 C). I know my garden is full of odd little microclimates, though; perhaps the Eranthis will fare better in one of them.

And finally, lime. Although the catalogues and articles promise they will grow in any kind of well-drained soil, I have read recently that they have a preference for alkaline soil. The unimproved pH of my soil tends to be around 4.8. That’s not alkaline.

So as the flowers emerge, I plan to relocate them, one by one, to a tiny spot at the base of an oak tree where they’ll get some sun, but won’t bake. I won’t bother them there with vigorous digging, because it’s pointless planting very much else at the base of oak trees; and, knowing precisely where they are and what my objective is, I’ll remember to apply a little extra lime in this narrow spot. We’ll see what happens. Wish me luck.


Soil testing: The process at the North Carolina state soil lab

The inch and a half of snow we got from the Blizzard of 2014 is melting today (by Sunday, it should be 60 degrees). It was fun and pretty while it lasted, but now that large patches of  mud are visible between the–drifts?–of snow, I’m thinking about spring.

Spring means soil testing for me this year, as I didn’t get my samples in before the fall cutoff. Due to high volume of sample processing, the state has begun charging a fee for samples submitted between December and March. It’s otherwise a free service, and while the fee is a mere $4, it’s the principle of the thing.

soil test for quince bed

A soil test report for one of my garden beds, taken last winter.

I’ve often wondered what happens at the soil lab. We send off a box of dirt, and we get back a detailed report showing levels of nutrients, organic matter, and pH, and recommendations for improvements based on what we plan to grow in each plot or bed sampled. And then the other day, I happened across this video, and my questions are resolved.

Growing a Greener World is an excellent series broadcast on many local PBS affiliates, or you can watch them online.

Azalea chlorosis

Or, Why Are My Azalea Leaves Turning Yellow?

Most of the subjects of the Great Azalea Migration have settled in well. I pruned them directly after this year’s flowering to give them more shape. Waiting too long to prune risks cutting off next year’s flowers.

This one, however, is showing signs of displeasure.

chlorotic azaleas yellow leaes green veins

Notice how the leaves are more yellow than green, but the veins remain dark green? This is a sign of chlorosis, a condition in which the leaves don’t produce adequate chlorophyll. The source of the problem lies in the soil’s pH; if the pH is not appropriate for the plant, that is, if the pH is too low (acid) or too high (alkaline), the plant’s roots cannot take up the nutrients (in this case, iron) in the soil. The solution to such a problem, therefore, is not to dump fertilizer on the plant, but to test the soil’s pH to confirm the diagnosis and then adjust it accordingly.

Azalea Growing Conditions

Azaleas like acid soil, typically in the pH range of 4.5 to 6. My soil falls within this range naturally. But it is possible that when this shrub was transplanted, some lime got mixed into the compost by accident; or it might have happened when I planted some smaller perennials at its base. Azaleas also want a shady location, or one that receives some morning sun. The light exposure is not the problem here.

This condition is interesting to me, because as you can see the older foliage is perfectly green. I would have thought the problem would be more evenly distributed on the plant.

So I will try to get a soil test for this patch of ground in the coming week or so. And if you are very good, I will show you the results and the remedy.