Thursday, December 27, 2012

Plants With Winter Interest - Part 8 - Eastern Teaberry

Gaultheria procumbens
Folks of a certain age will probably remember the Teaberry Shuffle, a simple dance featured in a series of commercials of the 1960's promoting Clarke's Teaberry chewing gum. But did you know that the source of that familiar, Wintergreen flavor, is the native groundcover, Gaultheria procumbens, or Eastern Teaberry, and is a welcome addition to any shade, or rock garden to add winter interest.

Gaultheria procumbens
The genus was named for Dr. Gaultier, a Canadian naturalist and physician of the middle 1700's. Procumbrens comes from from the Latin verb procumbere to fall forwards, referring to its prostrate, or creeping along the ground form. According to a Rutgers University fact sheet, the Massachusetts explorer, Jonathan Carver wrote about it in his Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768, first published in 1778, describing it “in winter it is full of red berries about the size of a sloe [small fruit of the blackthorn], which are smooth and round; these are preserved during the severe season by the snow, and are at that time in the highest perfection. The Indians eat these berries, esteeming them very balsamic and invigorating to the stomach”.

Gaultheria procumbens
Eastern Teaberry is a spreading, evergreen, shrub which only grows 4 to 8 inches tall. It spreads primarily through undergound stems (rhizomes), sending up two to six inch branches each bearing 1-2 inch oval, shiny, dark green leaves which turn reddish in the cold weather. Small, bell-shaped, white to pink flowers bloom in mid to late summer and mature to bright red fruit in late autumn that often persists throughout the winter and into the following spring. It grows well in zones 3-7. It likes light to moderate shade; prefers acidic, evenly moist organically enriched soil but also does well in sandy soil.

Gaultheria procumbens
As a medicinal plant, it has been used historically as an analgesic, diuretic, stimulant, astringent and tonic. It was one of the ingredients in William Swaim's 1811 formula for Swaim’s Panacea. In 1831, the American Journal of Pharmacy reported that “the wonderful success of Mr. Swaim’s Panacea has brought this oil into great vogue”. Not quite snake oil, but close. The concentrated essential oil, Methyl salicylate, originally distilled from the plant, but now more likely created synthetically, is registered for use by the Envrironmental Protection Agency (EPA) as either an animal repellent (e.g., dogs and cats) for use on ornamental plants in residential garden plots, or as an insect repellent for stored grains, to keep the indian meal moth away. It has been touted as a folk remedy against colic, headaches, body aches and pains, inflammations, rheumatism, sore throats, and tooth decay. Even today, it is a component of some mouth washes and toothpastes, and gives some liniments their characteristic scent. However, in its concentrated form, it is highly toxic.

Gaultheria procumbens
So, grow it for its high ornamental value, as an evergreen groundcover for winter interest in shady spots, or admire it in its native habitat while walking in the woods.

Learn more about Plants with Winter Interest:

Winter Interest in MG Iris Master's Landscape and Other Penn National Gardens
Nandina - Heavenly Bamboo
Landscaping for Four Seasons of Interest
Plants With Winter Interest - Part 1 - Partridge Berry
Plants With Winter Interest - Part 2 - Snowdrops
Plants With Winter Interest - Part 3 - Stinking Hellebore
Plants With Winter Interest - Part 4 - Native Jewel Orchid
Plants With Winter Interest - Part 5 - Lavender
Plants With Winter Interest - Part 6 - Witchhazel
Plants With Winter Interest - Part 7 - Paperbark Maple

Friday, December 21, 2012

Winter Interest

In planning her garden, Master Gardener Iris Masters included plants that would provide winter interest: birch trees, Japanese andromeda, Oregon grape holly, magnolia and cypress trees, nandina and crape myrtle.

Iris and I took a turn ‘round the yard through the season’s first snow flurries and I snapped some photos. I missed the hawk roosting in the birch (Betula jacquemontii) but captured the contrast of the tree, listed as the whitest one available, against the evergreens.

The Japanese andromeda (Pieris japonica) shown below provides a bright greeting near the front door.

The Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium) shown above displays its yellow-green holly leaves.
Iris’ landscape plan provided shelter from winter winds for the large magnolia shown above in the front yard which holds its deep green all winter.
The Hinoki cypress tree (Chamaecyparis obtuse ‘Kosteri’) has beautiful form and evergreen foliage.

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) shown above is not a true bamboo but a member of the barberry family. The berries are beautiful but they are not as popular with birds as holly berries although mockingbirds and others will eventually eat them.
The crape myrtle (Lagerstromea x ‘Zuni’) with beautiful lavender flowers provides striking seed pods that reach toward the sky.
Other yards around Penn National show winter landscape interest using ornamental grasses, unusual evergreen specimens or bark as well as trees placed so their winter-bare branches create eye-catching silhouettes.

Although the red-berried bushes of Barberry (Barberry vulgaris) really add to the landscape of this white house with red shutters, this is an invasive PA plant. Choose Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) as a substitute.

These plants are sheltered from the winter with burlap but holiday imaginations may see silhouettes of shepherds or wise men.

When there’s a break in winter weather, take a turn around your yard and see what you have and when those post holiday plant and seed catalogues start coming perhaps plan to add something in the coming year for next winter.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Poinsettia Season

We first saw the poinsettia plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) in the 1820s,  brought to the US from Mexico by our ambassador, Joel Robert Poinsett.  The latin name came from a German botanist who thought the color was dazzling (pulcherrima means very beautiful).  Willliam Prescott, a historian and horticulturist, assigned the common name Poinsettia to the plant in honor of the person who brought it to the US.

The poinsettia is native to Mexico, and was known to the Aztecs as Cuetlaxochitl, and they used the bracts to produce a red dye.  There is a story that Montezuma had the plants brought by caravan to his palace because they wouldn't grow at that high an altitude.

True Poinsettia flowers

Many people don't realize that the colored bracts we enjoy so much are simply colored leaves; the poinsettia's true flower is inconspicuous, tiny and yellow.  I always heard that the poinsettia was poisonous if ingested, but Purdue University tests showed no signs of toxicity when they force-fed the plant to rats.  Their only negative finding was that some individuals may be sensitive to the plant's sap as a skin irritant.

Pink bracts

When you are buying a poinsettia, look for two things: bright green foliage all along the stem, and plants with little or no pollen showing on the true flowers.  Plants with older flowers will tend to drop their leaves earlier.  Always ask for a sleeve or some protection for your plant when you take it outdoors: if the poinsettia is exposed to temperatures below 50 degrees, it can cause wilting and dropping of bracts.  Indoor conditions in PA are not ideal for poinsettias: they are a native of the tropics.  They enjoy temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees, moderate and not excess watering.  They like sunny days and cool nights.  A south-facing window sill is often an ideal location where it can get sun during the day and cooler temperatures at night.

(Information in this post was taken from the University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Nandina - Heavenly, or Sacred Bamboo

Nandina domestica

MG Nancy Miller shares these pictures of her Heavenly Bamboo, Nandina domestica.

Despite its name, this plant is not a member of the bamboo family, but the barberry family.  It is native to East Asia.

According to this Virginia Tech fact sheet,
Heavenly bamboo is a medium-large upright shrub. In late spring it bears showy white flowers and in the late fall/winter it has attractive reddish foliage (sun) and large clusters of red berries. This species can tolerate full sun or full shade and is drought tolerant. There are several dwarf cultivars that are suitable for small spaces.
Nandina domestica
The berries are considered mildy toxic if ingested, although birds appear to be immune and are the chief means of dispersal.  Some southern states consider it weedy or invasive, although Texas welcomes it, because of its drought tolerance.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Butterfly Weeds as Larval Hosts

Monarch Butterfly Larvae on Butterfly Weed

Master Gardener Janet Sharp downloaded her camera recently and sent us pictures of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars on her Butterfly Weed.

Monarch Butterfly Larvae on Butterfly Weed

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Another Butterfly Weed

In Ray E's  Nov. 6  post he shows two different butterfly weeds in his yard.

Here's another plant marked butterfly weed in the garden center. A reminder to look for the scientific binomial name. I thought the plant I bought was the Asclepias tuberosa and that it had died. These beautiful flowers came up and I liked them. Then I noticed the pods.

This is Asclepias curassavica, commonly called Mexican Butterfly Weed, Blood-flower, Scarlet Milkweed or Tropical Milkweed. It is a species of flowering plant in the milkweed family, Asclepiadaceae and native to the American tropics.

According to the USDA plant profile, it is an evergreen perennial subshrub which only grows in CA, FL, HI, LA, TN,  and TX. It must be an annual here in PA.

I have saved a number of seeds and, like Ray, I'll see if I can get some plants going in the spring. If successful, look for some at the May plant sale.

OVERWINTERING ROSEMARY (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary plant
Perennial - evergreen
Height: 2-4 ft.
Culture: Sun; good drainage
Flowers: Pale lavendar in summer
Leaves: Herbal uses such as seasonings
Fruits: None
Hardy: Zones 6-11 (Franklin County is Zone 6)
Needs winter protection
This time of year a question often comes up: "Can I leave my rosemary plant outside during the winter?"

It depends on the plant variety, health of the plant, where it is located in your landscape, soil conditions and the severity of the cold.

Currently there are five rosemary varieties that are likely to survive our most severe winters: 'Arp,' ' Hill Hardy,' 'Salem,' 'Nancy Howard,' and 'Dutch Mill.'  Not all plants listed as hardy will be so for every gardener in the same area. While the rosemary variety 'Miss Jessopp's Upright' has been sold as winter hardy up into south central Pennsylvania, it is inconsistent in its hardiness, dying off in areas as far south as Virginia and yet overwintering in some lower Pennsylvania counties.

'Arp' Rosemary - winter 

Rosemary should be planted before June 1 to allow it to get well established and regular care will result in a healthy plant. Plants sited in sheltered areas, such as near a wall or fence, will get some protection from wind damage and dehydration. Rosemary needs good soil drainage and benefits from southern exposure for the most winter sunlight.

Some Winterizing Tips

Even for winter hardy plants, gardeners can protect against the cold.

In addition to cutting weak, dead and damaged branches, trim any branches that are too low. Fall is not the time to do pruning on rosemary as it will promote new growth that is highly susceptible to frost. Give the plant a deep watering and mulch around the bottom of the plant.

Sheltering windbreak for overwintering evergreens

Depending on your site, a small wind break made with tomato stakes and cloth or burlap stapled to them can help.

In our area, rosemary plants need protection from frost, snow and ice as well as wind during the winter. A good way to provide this is to cover or wrap the plants. To provide plant and branch support from heavy snow and ice, wrap the plant with burlap.

Start at the bottom and gently pull the branches loosely together. Overlap the burlap as you wrap to the top, leaving enough burlap to fold over and clip. This will give keep the branches from extending out and collecting the weight of snow and ice on them. Wrap twine loosely around the burlap to secure it.

Wrap rosemary plants with burlap and twine

Alternately, put a tomato cage around a plant, or stakes, and wrap them with burlap, leaving extra at the top. The cage or stakes need to be in place before a hard freeze. Fill the inside space loosely with leaves and clip the burlap closed at the top. The leaves help insulate a plant.

Fill with leaves to help insulate the plant

Check back later for tips on overwintering herbs indoors.