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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Preserving Color in Fall Leaves

Preserved ginkgo and sweetgum leaves

You can already see shades of red and yellow bursting forth from the maples, sumac, ginkgo, and other plants.  Would not it be nice to have some of this color to brighten up the dreary days of winter?  Well, there are several methods by which you can do this.
One of the oldest methods to reserve colorful leaves is to press the leaves between sheets of waxed paper.  To do this place autumn‑colored leaves between two layers of wax paper.  Cover with an old towel or cloth rag.  Press the fabric with a warm iron, sealing the wax paper together with the leaf in between.  Cut your leaves out, leaving a narrow margin of wax paper around the leaf edge. This is a time-tested way to do it.
For the more modern, you can preserve fall leaves in your microwave oven.  Choose fresh leaves with the brightest colors.  You do not want to use fallen leaves that have already started to dry. Take individual leaves and place them in the microwave on top of two pieces of paper towels. Cover them with two additional sheets of paper towels.
You will need to experiment with the amount of time you need to run the oven.  It will vary from 30 seconds to 1½ minutes depending on the wattage of your microwave and amount of leaves.  The drier the leaves, the less time they will need.  You might want to place a small bowl of water in with the leaves so they do not over-dry.  Leaves that curl after removal, have not been dried enough.  Leaves that scorch, have been left in too long.  Let the dried leaves acclimate for a day or two and then finish the leaves with an acrylic craft spray sealant.
Another microwave option that produces really good results is if you include silica gel for drying.  Place a one inch layer of floral silica gel in the bottom of a cardboard box.  Place the leaves lying flat.  Leaves should not touch and should be at least 1.25 inches away from the sides of the box.  Cover the leaves with a one-inch layer of gel.  Place the uncovered box in the microwave.  You want the microwave to operate at about 200 to 300 watts so if your microwave has 2‑10 settings operate it at level 4.  If the oven only has three to four settings, it should be set at half.  If your oven has a high to defrost options, set the microwave on defrost.  Estimated drying time is 2.5 minutes if you're using a half pound of gel and about 5 minutes if using two pounds of gel.
     Yet another way to preserve the leaves is to submerge them in a solution of glycerin and water. Use a mixture of one part glycerin to two parts water.  Place the mixture in a flat pan, and totally submerge the leaves (in a single layer) in the liquid.  You'll have to weight them down to keep them submerged.  In about two to six days they should have absorbed the liquid and be soft and pliable.  Remove them from the pan and wipe off all the liquid with a soft cloth.  Done correctly, the leaves will remain soft and pliable indefinitely.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Azalea Caterpillars Are Here!

Have you noticed that something is eating the leaves off your azaleas? Maybe you have seen an orangish-brown banded moth about 2 inches long flying around them.  Azalea caterpillars are showing up on azaleas already this year.  The moths are sort of pretty until the lay their 100s of eggs on your favorite azalea and the caterpillars start eating.

Azalea caterpillars primarily attack azaleas.  They will however feed on blueberry, viburnums, and apples. This large (2 inches at maturity), strikingly marked caterpillar is an occasional pest of azaleas throughout the South. Newly-hatched azalea caterpillars are yellow with longitudinal reddish stripes, but their appearance changes markedly as they grow. Older caterpillars are black, checkered with yellow or white, and have a reddish-orange head and legs. If you disturb the caterpillars, they will raise their heads and tails raised, creating a broad u-shape. Sort of like they are smiling at you while destroying your plants.

          Newly-hatched larvae feed together on the undersides of leaves, causing leaves to look like nets.  As larvae get larger, they spread out and feed individually, causing progressively greater amounts of defoliation. Heavy infestations can cause total defoliation of entire plantings of azaleas. A single caterpillar will eat 80 to 90 percent of the total leaf area during the last 3 to 4 days before it forms a pupa. This is why severe defoliation can seem to appear overnight. Plants that appear perfectly fine on Sunday afternoon can be totally defoliated by Wednesday afternoon.

Be alert for early signs of leaf netting caused by the young caterpillars. Early detection and control of young larvae can prevent serious defoliation later.  If you find only a few caterpillars, simply remove them by hand.  If there are large numbers, you might need chemical controls.  Any insecticide labeled for outdoor use will be effective.  People wanting to use organic controls should select products containing B.t. (Bacillus thuringiensis).

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Designer Pear?

      Recently I judged the fruit and vegetable entries at the Neshoba County Fair.  The cool July allowed for some pretty good produce. The pear entries this year were probably the best I have seen.  They all had good size, shape, and color.  The only exception to this was an entry where all the fruit was apparently infected with cedar-apple rust.  Normally you will see spots on the leaves that look like these.   This is the first time I have seen it on fruit. 

      While I was making photos of the infected fruit, someone asked me if that was normal or was it a ‘designer’ fruit.  Good thought. Can spots on fruit make them more attractive?   Most of the time spots on fruit indicate rot underneath.  In this case these spots are only on the skin and can be easily peeled off.

Friday, May 30, 2014

‘National Water a Flower Day’

Talk about a wasted special day!  Today is ‘National Water a Flower Day.’  It is celebrated each year on May 30.  Anymore rain at my house and I am going to declare ‘Meridian Build a Boat Day!  A few days ago the thought of watering my flowers today would have been a good idea, but after 3 days of off and on rain I do not need anymore.

It is probably not the same in other parts of the nation so people need to get up and get to watering.  Some people have a garden full of flowers and will not be able to stop with watering just one flower but that is okay.   You can also include you indoor plants and flowers on National Water a Flower Day.  Okay, thankfully it is not rainy inside my house.  Maybe you have a vase full of flowers, this is your reminder to give them fresh water today also.

Today is a fun day; a day to enjoy the happiness that flowers bring to people.  It is possible that you know someone that is home-bound, hospitalized, needs some cheering up or that you want to say “thank you” or just to “make someone’s day.”  If so, then today would be a great day to take them a bouquet of flowers, but remember to “water the flowers” before you deliver them!

Or if you live somewhere in or in states surrounding Mississippi, just set you flowers outside.

Have a ‘Happy Water a Flower Day!’

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

American Fringetree

American frigetree
Shortly after the majesty of the dogwoods fade, another flowering tree blossoms forth seemingly from nowhere.  The American fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus), also known as white fringetree, grancy graybeard or old man’s beard, puts out its floral display of masses of white fringe-like flowers after the plant's leaves are about a third grown.  The flowers have individual elongated or strap-like petals up to an inch long.   The abundance of flowers can be so great that the entire plant can be covered with blooms.  An added attraction is that the flowers are fragrant.
Plants generally produce only male or female flowers though some flowers may be bisexual.  Male flowers are the largest.  The female plants produce dark blue fruits shaped like an olive and can be over an inch long and are borne in large clusters.  (The American fringetree is a member of the Olive Family.)
The leaves of the fringetree are large, egg-shaped and over 2 1/2" wide and up to 3-8" long.  The tree is deciduous but the leaves can have a nice yellow color in the fall.
This small tree is native from Ohio to over much of the southeastern United States.  Mature trees can reach heights of 20 to 30 feet. The tallest tree now known currently is in Texas and is 28 feet tall.  The fringe tree is easy to grow.  While it prefers full sun, it tolerates full shade too.   It also prefers a well-drained soil with a slightly acidic pH, but it can adapt to just about any soil type.  Pests and diseases rarely bother this tree.
The fringetree has found its way into folk medicine.  Preparations made from the bark have been used in the treatment of fevers and as a diuretic.   A tincture made from the bark and grain alcohol was used for jaundice.  Native Americans used tea made from boiled bark as a topical treatment for skin irritations, cuts and infections.
Finding these trees to put in your landscape can be difficult.  Production of container-grown trees is fraught with problems.  Rooting of cuttings is nearly impossible.  Germination of seeds is difficult due to a double dormancy requiring a warm after-ripening followed by cold stratification.  Freezing the seed following the after-ripening period might increase the germination rate.  Some nurserymen report poor growth the first year after establishing the seedlings in a container.
There has been some success in propagating plants by mounding soil (mound layering) around young multi-stem plants in the spring.  That winter the mounded plants are divided.  This is a slow way to propagate but it can work.