Thursday, May 30, 2013

Have you heard of Rose Rosette Disease?

Hello fellow garden enthusiasts!

Let's talk today about a disease that's been getting some press lately: Rose Rosette Disease.

Despite their reputation as being the wonder plant of the flowering shrub world, Knock out and Drift roses are not resistant to disease, and their susceptibility to Rose Rosette Disease has made them the topic of conversation lately. Rose Rosette Disease is by no means an epidemic but it's always good to be aware of the challenges that may make their way to your garden!

Most gardeners know that disease is a fact of nature- it's in the soil, it's carried by insects, and in some way or other, it's inevitable. Knowing that, savvy gardeners try to follow sound cultural practices, employ disease control methods, and brush up on the signs and symptoms of diseases so that when disease does occur, they're ready.

So, as a smart gardener, what do you need to know about Rose Rosette Disease? Let's cover:
-what it is
-how to identify it
-how to prevent it
-and what to do if your roses have it

What is Rose Rosette Disease:
According to a report published by Virginia Tech, Rose Rosette Disease is a virus that can affect any type of rose here in the United States. It is spread by mites and can ultimately be lethal to the infected plant.

How do you Identify Rose Rosette Disease?
There are a handful of symptoms to look for when diagnosing this disease, though not all instances of the disease will display the same characteristics.

One common symptom is red, irregular new growth. This can be a confusing symptom, though, because Knock out rose growth is usually reddish- it's one of the beautiful features of knock out roses!

To  minimize confusion, let's compare photos of healthy and infected new growth to pinpoint what to look for. In the picture on the left below, you can see the healthy, reddish shoots of an uninfected Knock Out rose. The growth is naturally spaced and sturdy and the leaves are filling out into their mature structure.
In the picture below on the right (from you can see the thick, red growth of a rose infected with Rose Rosette Disease. This effect is often referred to as 'witches broom' and is a good indicator of a problem.

Another symptom to look out for is improperly developed flowers. On the left you'll see a healthy knock out rose bloom. It has some discoloration along the edges of the petals, but that's normal- it is out in the elements! On the whole, the whole it is healthy and fully-developed. In contrast, the picture on the right (from Today's Garden Center) shows an infected rose whose blooms don't quite fully mature. You can see that the inner petals never break the bud position and the outer petals are misshapen. In some cases, the buds never actually open.

Another symptom may be swollen, excessively thorny stems like this ( photo by Joe Boggs from BYGL)

So what can you do to prevent Rose Rosette Disease from reaching your roses?
Basically, the best way to prevent this lethal disease is to follow good horticultural practices:

1. Proper Spacing: when you plant your roses, make sure that you are spacing them 4-5' apart so that when your plants are fully mature, their branches are not crossing. This disease is spread by mites that can simply mosey over to neighboring roses via branches and leaves that are too close together. Make it more difficult for these pesky carriers by spacing your plants properly!

2. Add variety to your plantings: While Knock out roses are a great way to add color and impact to your garden, resist the urge to plant banks of them. Any large grouping of the same plant species (also known as a monoculture) is increasingly susceptible to disease and roses are no exception. Mixing your roses among your other garden plants helps to decrease the chance of disease.

3. Prune and clean your roses annually: In late February, prune your roses to about 18" canes and rake up the fallen leaves. This will help to remove any overwintering mites from the plant. Be sure to remove the debris, bag it, and trash it. Composting these clippings may only perpetuate any existing problem you may have in your garden!

4. Consider chemical control: if you have had trouble with mites before, consider employing a chemical control to reduce the mite population and prevent Rose Rosette Disease.

What should you do if you have an infected rose?
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to reverse the disease once it has infected a plant. The best thing to do is cut your loses and manage the diseased plant properly. Remove the plant completely, bag it and trash it. If its neighboring plants are roses as well, it's a good idea to remove those plants as well.
Once the infected plants are out of your garden, it's best not to plant roses back in that spot again to prevent the disease from reoccurring.

The good news is that only roses are vulnerable to Rose Rosette Disease, so if you do find it in your garden, your non-rose plants will be just fine!

Just Showing a Little Hospitality!

 The Pineapple has long been the symbol of Hospitality!

Though stories differ on exactly how this perky, tropical fruit came to be the universal symbol of good fellowship with dear friends, most seem to agree that its origin is in Colonial America.

Centuries later, having a pineapple displayed in the home continues to symbolize hospitality, entertainment, and a warm welcome. 

Does your home have a pineapple?

Monday, May 27, 2013

We Love Ladybugs

Have we mentioned how much we love ladybugs? These cheerful insects have a lot going for them--in addition to their charming good looks and uncanny ability to congregate in your window sills,  ladybugs are great beneficials!

What does that mean? A 'beneficial' is an insect that benefits your garden by reducing the populations of pest species. For the environmentally-conscious gardener, encouraging ladybug populations in your garden means that you can control the populations of undesirable insects that harm your plants (like aphids, scales and mites) simply by letting the ladybugs eat!

Introducing ladybugs into your garden is an easy, environmentally responsible way to control pest damage in your garden. You can purchase ladybugs from your local garden center (including our garden center if you're a Richmonder) and bring them home to your landscape. We recommend giving your garden a quick squirt with the hose just before setting your new ladybugs free so that the damp foliage entices them to get comfortable. Ladybugs do best in their new environment when they are released in the evening.

The ladybugs that we offer are 'pre-conditioned' which is an important distinction to look for when you are purchasing your ladybugs. Basically, pre-conditioned ladybugs are more likely to stick around your garden than to disperse to find insects to eat. When ladybugs become active for the season, their instinct is to disperse. Pre-conditioned ladybugs are already somewhat active and are therefore less likely to leave your landscape!

If you've seen aphid damage in your garden before, we recommend introducing ladybugs soon. Don't let the damage get too bad before you bring in the beneficials- while ladybugs are great at reducing future pest feasting, they can't do a thing to reverse existing damage!

Happy Gardening!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Urban Gardening- What to plant when you're low on space!

Hi there!

The weather is finally perking up here in Richmond which makes us gardeners ever so happy.

With warm summer weather on the brain, let's talk today about a topic near and dear to my heart-- urban gardening!

I hail from a tiny apartment in the Fan, so I've had to get creative in the past 4 years when it comes to planting my garden. As a plant-lover with limited space and limited time to tend, I've spent the last few seasons honing a list of essential plants that make my garden complete. I call it my 'Great Eight'

To make the roster, each plant must meet a rigorous series of criteria because, let's face it, space is precious here and I need each plant to be high impact! 

Before I reveal my starring plant lineup, there are a few things you need to know about my gardening space:

-The front 'yard' is full sun, surrounded by concrete, and approximately 20' wide and 12' deep with a curvy brick pathway through the middle leading to the front door. It is hot, hot, hot all day long out in the front, and the soil is pretty terrible (though I have been amending it with compost for the past two seasons in hopes of improving it!)

-The back 'yard' is tricky- most of it gets about 6 hours of morning/early afternoon sun, and one little section of it is pretty shady. Same soil conditions (in fact, when we first moved in I found several chunks of granite slab in the soil while planting one of the beds...)

-Most importantly, I have no outdoor water source so any watering I do is from a watering can that I fill from the shower inside (read into this: any plant in my garden must require little to no supplemental water!)

Now that you know the background, here's who makes the cut (in no particular order!):

1. Prostrate Rosemary - let me tell you about this high-impact plant. I popped 2 of these 1 gallon gems in the ground 3 years ago flanking either side of my front steps. They are now about 16" tall , 2' wide and BEAUTIFUL! 
Here's why they're so great: they are much more compact than standard rosemary, they required very little water when I first planted them and I never water them now, they established quickly,  I use sprigs of them in all sorts of dishes and cocktails (there's nothing like walking outside to pick fresh herbs for dinner!) they put on beautiful purple flowers in the early spring, they are evergreen, they smell fantastic, the bees love them, and I prune them once in the winter and use the clippings in my holiday greenery. Clearly, prostrate Rosemary definitely earns its spot in the garden! 

2. French Lavender - I'm a bit of a francophile when it comes to gardening (and wine and pastries...) so my love affair with lavender goes beyond the utilitarian perks of this plant. Nonetheless, I'll stick to the horticultural basics and tell you that this plant is another absolute workhorse in the right gardening condition. I planted 3 of these 1 gallons as a border along the sidewalk in front of my garden at the same time I planted the rosemary. (To be honest, I planted them in this way to protect the herbs I cook with from dog passers-by-- a very important consideration for the urban gardener-- these three lavenders have served as excellent gate keepers and really 'take one for the team' so to speak.) 3 years later, they are about 18" tall and 16" wide and have created a beautiful silvery-green screen topped with dancing purple blooms. 

Here's what they add to a garden: their evergreen foliage is a beautiful silvery-green that contrasts really nicely with most other plants, bees LOVE their blooms, they add a fun vertical shape in the garden, you can use their blooms as cut flowers, or dry them for use in cooking (we had a delicious lavender and sea-salt butter served at our rehearsal dinner that I've replicated every summer since!) and if you rub the blooms on a fresh bee sting it takes out some of the ouch! Definitely makes the cut. Water input: haven't watered it since the first summer I planted it!

3. Lemon Balm -  I love this stuff. Lemon balm is a leafy perennial herb that adds a great color to the garden. Its lime-green leaves smell so lemony and delicious! It's great for covering space, but it's fairly compact, so it doesn't look too wild and unkempt. You can use it in salads and dressings and even to perk up a drink. Since it's a perennial, it graces your garden every spring and lasts through the first few frosts. All you have to do is water it until it establishes, and then cut it back once a year when the leaves die back. And it's great at suppressing weeds, which cuts way back on my tending time. 

Photo credit: Proven Winners

4. Catmint (Nepeta)- This trooper makes the list for aesthetics and strength alone. I planted 2 of these opposite my lavenders to protect the other herbs and greet visitors and boy do they serve their purpose! These perennials also have silvery-green leaves and purple blooms. They spread nicely and bloom from April well past the first few frosts! In fact, mine was blooming in December last year! For looks alone this is a great pick, but it also establishes easily and requires little to no supplemental water. 

5. Oregano- A staple for all Italian gardens. This perennial herb is so versatile and crucial to any culinary garden! It's got great color and a great scent and, of course, can be used in all sorts of recipes. I use it weekly for making dipping oil for bread. Cut it back once a year when the cold kills its leaves, and you're good to go! I haven't watered it since it established during the first summer I planted it. 

6. Genovese Basil- If I were to choose a favorite herb, it would have to be basil. I could live on pesto linguine alone. My favorite variety of basil is Genovese for its sweet taste and lack of licorice twang. Basil is an annual herb, so every year I pop in 3 new plants. Of all my all-star plants, basil takes the most time and attention, but it is absolutely worth it. I do have to water the plants regularly (depending on the rainfall) and it takes some time to weed around them, but the flavor it adds to dishes and drinks is heavenly!

5. Mint-My husband is a novice bourbon connoisseur, so mint was a must-have from the start of our first garden. We have a small patch of soil in the front yard that is bordered on all sides by a concrete curbing; to cut back on weeding, provide some uniform color and texture, and of course have fresh mint on hand 8 months of the year, I filled the spot with some mint cuttings. *Be aware that mint is an aggressive spreader! Make sure that you plant it in a place where its runners are confined (like a container or a small concrete bed) lest you end up with a garden full of mint and nothing else! The only work involved with this guy is keeping it contained and cutting back the dead foliage in the late fall. 

(photo credit: Proven Winners)

6. Creeping thyme- I originally chose this marginally evergreen little herb mostly for its creeping habit, but it has turned out to be a great addition for many reasons! Because it spreads nicely, it covers the ground and helps reduce the weeds, which saves me a ton of time. Its leaves are, of course, edible and a great addition to dishes. But what surprised me the most was how beautiful it is when it flowers! It looks like a little blanket of soft purple blooms. I do have to water the thyme once or twice a week (depending on the rain) but for the most part it is fairly low maintenance.

7. Knock-out Roses- One May I salvaged 3 pink knock out roses from a friend's house that were destined for the trash. They had been sitting bare-root by the trash for a few days when I spotted them and with her blessing I took them home to see if they'd survive. I planted them in my questionable backyard soil, crossed my fingers and was pleasantly surprised when they bloomed like crazy a few weeks later. All this to say, these plants are TOUGH! They bloom from April to December and require little water at all. I do have to weed underneath them every other week, but for the beautiful impact they bring to the garden, they make the cut!

8. Moonflower- This annual vine is so neat! It serves many purposes in our garden and is such a treat for us in the evenings. We have it trained on wires to grow up (and disguise) a very unsightly cinder block wall in the backyard. The best thing about moonflower is that it blooms at night! It has these beautiful white flowers that burst open each night (in fact, you can actually watch them open it happens so quickly!) Typically, by the time my husband and I get home from work it is almost twilight, so the white, night-blooming flowers allow us to enjoy our garden much later than we otherwise would!

And with that, you've met my 'Great Eight' essential urban garden plants. If you're strapped for space and time, try one (or all!) of these plants in your garden- I bet they won't disappoint!

There are tons of great plants out there! I'd love to hear your suggestions for great small space, low input plants that would make your list! Share your favorites in the comments so we can all see!

Thanks for dropping in!