Wordless Wednesday: Azalea season

Azaleas beginning to bloom by my neighbor's shed

Azaleas beginning to bloom by my neighbor’s shed

azalea bud

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Summertime’s flower: Gardenia

Summer is here for certain. I know not because of my calendar, but because my gardenia hedge is blooming.

gardenia bloom

I planted the hedge in 2005 from very small plants. They’re now about 6 feet tall and wide, getting morning sun beneath large oak trees. I mulch them with shredded leaves in the fall, and lay down a light feeding of slow-release organic source of nitrogen (like blood meal) in the spring. Cutting back the spent blooms in July often yields another flush of blooms in August or September. Other than that, I don’t do much to tend them.

My soil is naturally acidic, so I don’t have to adjust the pH. I’ve never seen the gardenias bothered by pests or diseases, although I know it’s possible for them to be affected by a variety of fungal diseases and problems of a cosmetic nature. The worst that’s happened to mine so far is the annual shedding of older leaves–they turn solid yellow and drop, making way for fresh green growth. I rake them up and compost them.

As evergreen hedges go, it’s hard to beat this one. If you can grow gardenias (Zones 7 and warmer), there’s no excuse not to.

I wish you could smell them. Heavenly.

 

Learn more about growing gardenias:

Growing unusual fruit: Lingonberries

My growing obsession with unusual fruit reached its tipping point a few weeks ago, when I placed an order for a few new edible landscaping items: A cornelian cherry, two honeyberries, and two lingonberries. Friends, this is just the beginning.

fruit plants arrived

They’re here!

I started with the lingonberries. Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are native to the northern reaches of North America, Europe, and Asia. As such, I’m taking a bit of a risk with these plants, as I live at the very edge of their heat-tolerance zone. They’re extremely cold-hardy. If I’d planted them last fall, they’d have shrugged off our polar vortex as a mild winter. With luck, they will spread by rhizomes to form a nice, tidy mat.

Like most Vaccinium species (blueberries and cranberries share the genus) they require moist, acidic soil. They also appreciate a bit of shade. I hope they’ll become an edible groundcover beneath my Southern highbush blueberries, which perform very well here.

They arrived in good condition. Inside the larger container, the plants came shipped in tall cardboard sleeves to keep the foliage from being crushed.

The lingonberries came packaged in tall cardboard sleeves.

The lingonberries came packaged in tall cardboard sleeves.

The 4-inch pots came wrapped in plastic to keep the soil moist and inside the pot.

The pots, but not the foliage, were shipped in plastic to keep the soil moist.

The pots, but not the foliage, were shipped in plastic to keep the soil moist.

Interesting looking moss came along for the ride.

interesting moss in lingonberry pot

I prepared the planting holes by digging them about six inches deep (the height of the pot) and about eight inches wide (twice the pot’s diameter). This is tricky to do because blueberries’ roots are shallow and brittle, and they don’t appreciate having their roots jostled and broken. Into the holes, I mixed a little homemade compost and some soybean meal. Soybean meal, available at feed stores, acts as a slow-release fertilizer high in nitrogen. It will release its nutrients to the blueberries and loganberries over the course of the summer. I don’t expect to need to feed them again this year, particularly because my acid clay is already high in phosphorus and potassium, though I’ll monitor the soil using free soil tests from the county extension service.

Soybean meal is typically used as a feed stock for poultry or pigs, but it's an excellent slow-release source of nitrogen.

Soybean meal is typically used as a feed stock for poultry or pigs, but it’s an excellent slow-release source of nitrogen.

I slipped the plants out of their pots. The roots look healthy, although they”ll need to be loosened a bit.

Plant roots should be loosened before planting, especially if they begin to grow in circles around the pot like this. But I'll need to be careful with the brittle roots.

Plant roots should be loosened before planting, especially if they begin to grow in circles around the pot like this. But I’ll need to be careful with the brittle roots.

I placed the plant in the hole, gently spreading out the roots, and covered with more compost. I watered it in, and spread up some of the existing pine bark mulch. I later mulched the entire bed with three inches of shredded pine bark.

The blueberries and lingonberries grow in a raised bed composed of native acid red clay and decomposed pine bark. The lingonberries will enjoy the dappled shade of the blueberry foliage, and will receive some additional shade from the side of the deck. Between this and regular deep watering, I hope they’ll get the break from the summer heat that they need.

The lingonberries and blueberries grow in a raised bed of native clay and decomposed pine bark.

The lingonberries and blueberries grow in a raised bed of native clay and decomposed pine bark.

Lingonberries typically produce two crops of fruit per year, in late summer and again in late fall. I’d be surprised if they fruited this summer, but perhaps I’ll get a crop around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Once the fruits begin to form, I’ll shelter them in my blueberry fortress.

Here’s a guide from Cornell University on growing lingonberries.

Garden log, 3.31.14

A gorgeous, clear spring day, high of 72. Planted a ‘Yuletide’ Camellia sasanqua, dug up Helianthus and Crocosmia to share with a local plant sale.  I am not entirely sure how I feel about these plants. They are gorgeous in flower and can fill a space quickly if that is what’s required, but demand active management if they are going to be kept in bounds. I believe for now that they’re an easy way to fill a border until the gardener has money to buy replacement plants or trade with friends.

HelianthusAnother four winter aconites, Eranthis hyemalis, emerged today–some corms/bulbs (it is time I mastered this terminology) sprouting two stems! Moved them promptly to a new home with more summer shade and a touch more lime in the soil. I think they’ll look fabulous next to the purple crocus, assuming that in their new location they don’t choose to bloom a month earlier than usual.

Tilled leftover manure-grit mixture from last year’s project into the new raised bed on the south side of the house. I cannot wait to get this bed planted; I have visions of the bed bursting with tomatoes and peppers. Salsa forever.