Garden Talk: December 2, 2013
From NGA Editors
National Poinsettia Day
Here's one more reason for celebration this month. December 12 is National Poinsettia Day! The date marks the anniversary of the death of Joel Poinsett, the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. He was also an avid amateur plantsman who introduced this native Mexican flower into cultivation in the United States in 1828, sending cuttings back to his home in South Carolina. From this humble beginning, the poinsettia has gone on to become the country's most popular holiday plant, accounting for more than 85 percent of holiday plant sales.
How did a subtropical wildflower become a holiday must-have? It wouldn't be where it is today without the work of the Ecke family. Beginning with Albert Ecke, who immigrated to this county from Germany in 1900, four generations of the family have grown and promoted the poinsettia as a holiday plant. Their improvements in breeding and propagation techniques, along with a lot of skillful marketing, have kept them the dominant force in the poinsettia market for decades and made the poinsettia an enduring symbol of the Christmas season.
Today we are no longer limited to red poinsettias. (It's not the flowers that are colorful, but the modified leaves called bracts, that cup a cluster of small, yellowish true flowers.) You can now choose from poinsettias in shades of pink, orange, peach, burgundy, white, even variegated ones combining two colors. And, though it might make Christmas traditionalists shudder, even blue and purple -- sort of. Those bluish hues are actually the result of watercolors applied to white bracts; new growth won't retain that color.
Breeding advances have also made poinsettias much longer lasting once we get them home. It's not uncommon to be enjoying whatever color plant you chose months after the holiday season has gone by. All it asks is bright light, average home temperatures, no drafts, and soil that's allowed to dry out slightly before rewatering.
If you like to learn some more fun facts about America's favorite holiday flower (great conversational tidbits for those holiday get-togethers), check out the University of Illinois' Poinsettia Facts.
African Sunset Petunia
If cold, wintry weather is getting you down, warm yourself up with thoughts of how striking this brilliantly hued petunia will look in your garden next spring. Petunia 'African Sunset', a 2014 All-America Selections Bedding Plant Award Winner, will wow with its eye-catching color and uniform, even growth habit.
Not for the color-shy, 'African Sunset' will spice up containers, hanging baskets, and garden beds with prolific blooms all summer long. Pair it with blues and silvers, such as salvia and dusty miller, for a study in contrasts, or turn up the heat by mingling it with the sunset colors of bright red and hot pink petunias.
Like all petunias, 'African Sunset' will do best in full sun, with regular watering and fertilization. Wait to set out plants until after the danger of frost is past in late spring. Look for 'African Sunset' petunias at garden store and greenhouses next spring.
All-America Selections are new varieties that have proven their superior garden performance in trial grounds across North America, as judged by independent experts in impartial trials.
For more about Petunia 'African Sunset', go to AAS.
Look for Lofos
Its name may not roll as readily off your tongue as petunia, but Lophospermum (pronounced low-fo-SPUR-mum) is a name that gardeners looking for a dramatic, cascading vine for a hanging basket will be glad to know. A tender perennial vine native to the mountains of Mexico that's grown as annual, this is an easy plant to grow in full to part sun.
New for 2014 from Suntory Flowers is 'Lofos® Compact', which trails just 1-2 feet long, making it perfect for hanging baskets or window boxes. Covered from late spring through frost with 2-inch, trumpet-shaped, rose pink or white flowers, it keeps its good looks without pinching or pruning. The flowers drop off as they fade, making deadheading unnecessary. Plants do best if fertilized regularly with a water-soluble fertilizer and if the soil is kept slightly dry without letting plants wilt.
If you want a larger plant, consider Suntory's wine red or white flowered 'Lofos®' Lophospemum, which will trail as much as 7 feet or can be trained to grow up a trellis.
But whichever one you grow, you'll probably be able to stump your gardening friends with its name!
For more about 'Lofos® Compact' Lophospermum, go to National Garden Bureau
The decline of honeybees due to colony collapse disorder has garnered a lot of attention in the last few years. But populations of native bees like bumblebees are also showing a downward trend. With fewer honeybees around to pollinate plants, the role of these native pollinators becomes even more vital.
Recent research done by Jonathan Larson, a doctoral student at the University of Kentucky, showed that a threat to bumblebees comes from a certain class of systemic pesticides known as neonicotinoids applied to lawns. He found that exposure to the necnecotinoid clothianidin slowed bee foraging, increased the mortality of worker bees, and had a negative effect on queen production.
Systemic pesticides are taken up by the plants they are applied to, and bees are exposed to the chemicals through the pollen and nectar they collect as they visit treated plants in flower, such as those of clover or weeds commonly found mixed in with turf. One way to avoid this problem is, of course, for home gardeners and commercial lawn care professionals to avoid the use of this class of pesticide.
But, suggests Larson, simply mowing the lawn to remove flowers either immediately before or after pesticide application may keep bumblebees from harm. He found that when treated clover flowers were mowed and new flowers allowed to grow to replace them, bumblebee colonies were not adversely affected. Says Larson, ″Direct contamination of the flowers is the problem, so homeowners need to remove the flower heads of weeds either before or after applying an insecticide to prevent exposure to native pollinators.″
Lawns cover millions of acres in this country, so lawn care practices can have a big impact on pollinators and other aspects of the environment. Larson's goal is to come up with ways that people who choose to treat their turf with insecticides can do so without harming our precious native pollinators.
To read more about Larson's research, go to UK Ag News. (Photo courtesy of Bonsak Hammeraas, Bioforsk -- Norwegian Institute for Agricultural and Environmental Research, Bugwood.org)