Archives for February 2012

Bloomerang – A New Lilac for the South

Did you catch the pun in the title of this post? If you didn’t, go back and take another look. (It’s okay. I’ll wait right here.)

See it now?

There’s a new, re-blooming lilac on the market, but it’s not called ‘Boomerang’ – it’s ‘BLOOM-erang.’ Cute, yes?

I’m really excited about this plant, because lilacs typically don’t perform well in the South. It’s not that our weather is too hot; the problem is that we don’t get a long-enough period of winter chill for lilacs.

Jim, one of the plant-gurus at a home and garden store I frequent, showed me the plants last weekend, and he’s excited, too. These babies are supposed to bloom in spring and fall, giving us lilac-starved Southern gardeners a double dose of beautiful blossoms.

(Actually, Jim told me that ‘Bloomerang’ has been out for about 3 years now, but there are finally enough plants on the market to get to our area. So if you’re a Southerner gardener and you want one fo these, don’t hesitate–they’re probably going to sell out fast, once word gets around.)

Meanwhile, Jim tells me that the blueberry bushes are flying out of his store, too, at the rate of about 20 plants a week. Blueberries, he said, are great to grow, because you don’t just get the fruit. You also get pretty flowers in the springtime, and reddish foliage on the bushes in fall. Also, birds are attracted to the berries, in case you’re more interested in wildlife than picking.

I scooped up some bargains on pansies last weekend, so if you’re in the market for inexpensive color, be sure to check around at area garden centers. Pansies start to get leggy and floppy once warm weather arrives, and the way things are going, that won’t be long. But for the next couple of months, discounted pansies are a good buy and add beauty to porches and decks. Right now, I’m enjoying a basket of yellow pansies hanging in my back yard. They’re like a splash of sunshine against the bare, brown landscape.

Can’t wait till spring…it’s coming!

How to Grow Camellias (Even If You Mistake Them for Roses)


The first time I ever saw a camellia in someone’s garden, I thought I’d stumbled across a rose with unusual leaves. But once I started reading about these beautiful flowers, I realized I wasn’t the only one who’d made that mistake.

A German botanist named Engelbert Kaempfer is credited for writing one of the earliest descriptions of camellias. When he discovered them growing in Nagasaki in the 1690s, he called them  Japanese roses’. A half-century later, in 1745, English author and naturalist George Edwards published a book of birds he’d drawn in various natural settings. One of them, Edwards wrote, was perched on the branch of what he called a “Chinese rose,” a plant we now know as a Camellia japonica.

Although it’s only February, the camellias in my Douglasville garden are blooming, and if you’re in the South, maybe you’re already seeing yours open, too.  Depending on the variety, camellias bloom from now until May in Georgia, and some will flower more than once.

Although some camellia blooms look as lush and heavily petaled as roses, they’re not related. They’re members of the Theaceae, or tea, family, and they’re native to Japan and China. These evergreen plants have become very popular in the Southeast., where most of us value them as ornamentals for our garden, but the leaves of some species are still widely used in Asia for tea.

If you’d like to add camellias to your garden, you can transplant potted plants in the spring. A partly shaded spot, with moist, well-drained soil, is ideal. If your soil stays too wet, try growing them in raised beds, about 10 to 12 inches higher than ground level. Camellias love acidic soil, too, so try planting them under tall pine trees. Dogwoods and azaleas make great companion plants.

Give your camellias a good start by cultivating the soil 8 to 10 inches deep. Dig holes that are two to three times the width of the root ball, but no deeper than the root ball. Remove any sticks or rocks as you back-fill the hole, and press the dirt firmly around the plant’s roots. Water thoroughly to eliminate air pockets.

Some experts say that you don’t need to add organic matter to the back-fill, but you can add 2 or 3 bags of compost if you’re gardening in a low area. Just mix the compost with your soil to create a mound, to help keep the camellia’s shallow roots from standing in water. Finish by adding about 3 inches of mulch, such as pine straw or pine bark, to help prevent weeds.

Camellias aren’t heavy feeders, and while specialty fertilizers are available, an 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 formula is usually fine Apply a tablespoon of fertilizer per foot of plant height in spring, summer, and fall until the camellia is well-established. Then you can feed the same amount, but twice a year, in spring and summer. Water weekly the first year after transplanting.

As the years go by, remember that because camellias have shallow roots, they can succumb to drought quickly, so water as often as the soil around your plant feels dry.

After the flowers are finished, camellias can be pruned to remove dead wood and allow light and air into the plant’s interior. For all their beauty, these plants are susceptible to various diseases and pests, including mites, scale, die-back, and sooty mold. But don’t let that scare you away. Proper cultivation—that is, keeping the garden clean, and removing old leaf litter– goes a long way towards success.

Need more info? Click here for an article from the University of Georgia College of Agriculture:

To learn more about camellias, check out the American Camellia Society’s list of publications at:

Seed Catalogs


Gardening friends, are you up for a re-run?

My article, below, orginally appeared on the Atlanta Gardening Forum. The website, run by a terrific gardener named Diane Cox, has just been revamped. It’s a great place to connect online and share your gardening questions, tips, stories, and photos. Check it out–there’s no charge to join.

After you do that—hope you enjoy these thoughts about seed catalogs:

“I used to think the first sign of spring was a yellow crocus sticking its nose up out of the thawing earth, or maybe a robin, bobbing for worms in a lawn made soggy by April rain. But spring really comes much earlier than that. For me, spring arrives on the morning I reach into my mailbox and find the first seed catalog of the season.

Even on the day after Christmas, a seed catalog is a welcome sight. As soon as I pack up the red holiday bows and chop up our evergreen branches for mulch, I’m winter-weary. I comb the local discount stores for signs of hope: a few leftover bulbs, still fat with promise for a late planting, or a tray of raggedgy-faced pansies to pot up for the porch. There’s not much else available, not much to hold me until I get my hands in the dirt again.

So I dream over seed catalogs instead, making lists like a child writing to Santa. The sum of my wants always alarms me, and I have to go back over my order, crossing out here and there. It’s tough to choose! Will it be new varieties of peas or petunias this spring? A feast for the plate or the eyes?

When the seeds arrive, I’ll take them to the basement. My husband’s rigged a grow lamp there, and I’ve saved disposable cups for seed beds. I shake the seeds out of their paper envelopes, some as fine as dust, and press them into the potting mix. A little water, a little sunlight in a warm corner of the kitchen, and ahhh–spring in a paper cup, promise in a pie pan.

I love seed catalogs, because they bring out the best in us as gardeners. And they bring out the best in us as human beings, because they give us hope. They let us believe in ourselves, and in our abilities, again.

When I plant each spring, I picture morning glories tangled on the fence and rows of corn marching military-straight across the back yard. By summer’s end, I usually find more tomato worms than tomatoes–and more zucchini than anything.

The best I can do then is sit down in the shade and take gardening philosophically. Real gardens aren’t perfect, seed catalogs notwithstanding. So I prop my hoe against a tree and settle for a nap in the hammock.

But I’m a gardener at heart, so I don’t take setbacks too seriously, or for too long. The seasons will turn again. One winter morning, I’ll hear the clunk of the mailbox door as another seed catalog arrives. Then I’ll plan again. And plant again. The seed sellers’ wish for us is that one summer evening, if we can straighten up long enough from our pile of just-pulled crabgrass, we’ll see one perfect, white moonflower unfurling its parasol blossom. Then, even if we never understand the how of gardening, we will understand the why.”

Copyright 2012 Lynn Coulter