Tidewater Gardening - January 2007

Bringing in the New Year - Think Spring!


K. Marc Teffeau

   With not much happening in the outside landscape in January, we settle in and enjoy perusal of all the seed and gardening catalogs. It’s hard to get the weather frogs to predict the rest of the winter, but the 60° days that we had in December hopefully meant that we will have a mild or normal winter.
    One situation that we may see this Spring is a reduction in the flowering of certain spring flowering shrubs. Some plants whose flowers have a limited chilling day requirement, like forsythia, have already bloomed out to some extent. I also noticed that some flowering cherries flowered out in November.
    The other concern is that the unopened flower buds may not remain cold hardy. If we get some really cold temperatures in January, the buds may freeze and die. We will just have to wait and see what happens.
    One outside winter gardening activity that you can do on mild winter days is pruning. Prune out any dead wood or crossing branches and remember not to use tree paint. Painting pruning cuts with tar, pitch or shellac will inhibit that natural callousing process around the cut.
    Remember that spring flowering shrubs should be pruned after they flower, not during the winter. You can prune crepe myrtles, rose of Sharon, hibiscus, butterfly bush and hydrangeas if they need it now.
    Often, when gardeners prune trees and shrubs in the winter, they find strange looking objects on their twigs and stems. Katydid eggs and praying mantis egg cases are two of the objects that are often found. Katydids lay their eggs in two rows with 10 or more eggs per row. You’ll find the eggs on either side of small twigs. The eggs are laid so that each one slightly overlaps its neighbor. They eggs dull white, oval and flattened. They closely resemble small cucumber seeds.
    When you find this type of egg cluster, destroy it. Katydids areclose relatives to grasshoppers and have about the same feeding habits. Although katydids are plant feeders and their eggs are common during winter, they’re rarely numerous enough to cause much damage.
    Praying mantis egg cases are another suspicious looking object home gardeners find at this time of year. The cases are usually attached to twigs, small branches, wire trellises and similar objects.
    Most gardeners recognize this beneficial insect, but few know what the egg cases look like. Mantises are related to katydids, but their eggs are much different. The mantis lays her eggs in a compact mass that is covered with a frothy substance. This soon hardens into a honey colored object tightly fastened to a twig or similar tubular material. Each mass contains between 75 to 250 eggs that hatch in the spring.
    Don’t destroy the mantis eggs. If they’re on a twig you are removing while pruning cut the twig and lace or tie it in a protected spot of the tree or shrubs.
    The All-American Selection folks have released their “New for 2007” annual plant selections for the avid gardener. New for 2007 are improved varieties of Vinca, Petunia, Celosia, and Pepper for you to consider growing or buying transplants this year.
    Vinca ‘Pacifica Burgundy Halo’ is a nice annual vinca with distinct flowers – a velvety halo with large white center or “eye.” The glossy dark green foliage can be literally covered with blooms due to plant vigor and heat tolerance. The unique color design and freedom of bloom were two traits that AAS Judges scored for this new variety to win.
    Easy to grow from plants, ‘Pacifica Burgundy Halo’ is adaptable to a full sun garden or any type of container. It will perform best if grown in well-drained soil or a soilless mix. A nice feature about this variety is that it is carefree and self-cleaning, no deadheading or removing spent flowers is necessary. Because of its drought tolerant characteristics, ‘Pacifica Burgundy Halo’ would an excellent choice for an annual flower in those dry parts of your landscape.
    Petunias are some of the standard annuals that we find in the seasonal landscape. The plant breeders have done an outstanding job with many different types forms and colors.
    Although there are many spreading petunias on the market, one in particular has iridescent “pink morn” blooms and continuous flower color for the entire season. Petunia F1 ‘Opera Supreme Pink Morn’ is distinct for shimmering flowers and non-stop color. Unlike other petunias, ‘Opera Supreme Pink Morn’ does not need “deadheading” to maintain flowering. Plants decorate gardens, naturally spreading 3 to 4 feet. Gardeners can best use this hybrid by allocating sufficient space in the full sun or allow the plants to flow down a slope.
   ‘Opera Supreme Pink Morn’ is perfectly adaptable to larger containers, but be sure to combine it with other vigorous plants; otherwise it could crowd out the weaker plants. These petunias are easy to grow. Provide them with full sun, a fertile soil and use a slow-release fertilizer to provide adequate nutrients throughout the growing season.
    Celosias are an easy-care annual that adds both height and color to the flower bed. Celosia ‘Fresh Look Gold’ is a new variety that has golden plumes that are 3 to 4 inches long and tolerate rain. Another nice trait, which is similar to zinnia, is that plant growth covers spent plumes so that the plant looks fresh all summer – hence the name ‘Fresh Look Gold.’ If you are looking for an easy to grow annual, consider this one.
    Heat and drought tolerant, you can plant ‘Fresh Look Gold’ in a sunny garden or patio container and water as needed. If you like to do craft work, grow this annual in your garden. The golden plumes can be cut and hung to dry. As an everlasting flower, the plumes are perfect for fall bouquets, wreaths or Halloween decorations.
    Lest you think that the All –American Selections are totally focused on annual flowers, a pepper has made the list for 2007.
    Pepper F1 ‘Holy Mole’ is a 2007 AAS vegetable award winner. ‘Holy Mole’ is an improved pasilla-type pepper which has a specialized use - mole´ sauce.
    The peppers are green when immature, elongated from 7 to 9 inches with a width of 1-1/2 inches, tapering to a blunt point. As the pepper matures, about 2 weeks after the green stage, the skin turns chocolate. This is the stage to harvest fruit when you want to make the famous mole’ sauce. The pungency is low, only 700 Scoville Units, but the dried fruit flavor is spicy, nutty and tangy – the perfect addition for a sweet-spicy mole’ sauce.
   ‘Holy Mole’ is easily grown from seed or bedding plants. The vigorous plants are resistant to Potato Virus Y and Tobacco Mosaic Virus, which will increase potential yield.
   ‘Hole Mole`’ fruit can be harvested in about 85 days from transplanting into warm garden soil. This is about 1 to 2 weeks earlier than other varieties.
    So, don’t despair about January. If the weather is nice, get out there and do some pruning and landscape cleanup. Plan to add one or more of the new All-American Selections 2007 winners to your annual flower bed display and vegetable garden.
    Happy Gardening!!