Friday, March 25, 2011

A Sad Farewell

It looks as though this is the end of the blog.  The CTC Horticulture department is being reorganized a bit and there will not be anyone to continue writing posts.  Not that there have been any recently...
Maybe someday we can make a comeback. So until then: happy gardening.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Native Plant of the Month: Oakleaf Hydrangea

     The Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, is a lovely native, semi-deciduous shrub. With the white spike flower (called a panicle), exfoliating bark, and those huge dark green leaves it’s an asset to any shady garden. With a mature height of 5-8 feet and a similar spread it is an ideal backdrop for shady perennials or for groupings and mass plantings. The leaves turn yellow to purple in the fall and the bloom clusters remain, though they turn brown, for a very interesting fall color display.

     The size and color of the flower vary depending on the cultivar, from bright white to creamy white to pink! The size of the shrub also varies, from ‘PeeWee’ that stays under 3’ to the 8’ species.
     Oakleaf hydrangeas like part sun to shade and prefer moist, sell-drained soil with a pH of 5.0-6.5. They have virtually no pest or disease problems and are a steady performer in the garden.

Jessica Watters, GCLP           Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Pesky Pest: the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

     The Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA), Adelges tsugae, is a small aphid-like insect that is infesting and seriously harming the Eastern (Tsuga canadensis) and Carolina (T. caroliniana) hemlocks in the eastern US. It was accidentally introduced into the US in 1924 and the first reported case of infestation was in 1951 in Virginia. The HWA is native to Eastern Asia where it has natural predators that keep the population in check; it is also believed that the Asian species of hemlocks have resistance to the pests.
     The HWA damages the hemlocks when it feeds. It has a piercing-sucking mouthpart, which it uses to suck the sap out of tender new branches. These wounds that they leave are openings for disease, and on top of that, it’s thought that the HWA injects some sort of toxin that causes further damage! As thousands of adelgids can congregate on one tree, these are mortal wounds. As a result, infested and infected hemlocks will look a silvery gray-green instead of the lush dark green that you’re used to seeing, and succumb in 7-20 years after initial infestation- faster the further south they are.

     The situation is dire: there are currently 11 states from Georgia to Vermont that have HWA populations. 50% of the range of the hemlock is compromised. The HWA has moved into Georgia as far south as Ellijay. If you have hemlocks, keep an eye on them to catch an infestation early – once on the tree, the HWA is not very mobile, so infected branches can be removed to save the rest of the tree. Notify your county extension office that you have a possible HWA infestation, take them a sample branch if you can to confirm your suspicions.
     There is no 100% effective treatment for the HWA. On a small tree horticultural oil, insecticidal soap and other insecticides can be used, but obviously as the trees grow to enormous proportions it is not feasible to spray an entire tree, also most pesticides cannot be sprayed within close proximity to water... which in the mountains is very limiting. There has been some luck with a pathogenic fungus that specifically targets the HWA, as well as some predatory insects: a beetle and another winged insect with a name that I cannot pronounce.
     Scientists have been crossing the American species with the HWA-resistant Asian species and have had some success maintaining the look of our hemlock while hanging on to the resistance. Hopefully this will prove to be a viable variety that can be available soon in nurseries or for reforestation of the northeast, where the hemlock is the 3rd most populous tree. Quarantines have also been established: no hemlock from a compromised area can be shipped outside that area.
     The outlook is grim for the Canadian and Carolina hemlocks in the Eastern US. Hopefully there will be a breakthrough in time to save this beautiful tree.

Jessica Watters, GCLP           Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Things Your Landscaper Wishes You Knew:

Here are some intersting tidbits that the average homeowner doesn't realize about us landscapers...
  • Chances are, I love your dog and I’m more than happy to spend a couple minutes scratching his ears when I get there. But I hate pooper-scooping as much as you do. If you want me to do that, it’s going to cost extra, unless you’re my all-time favorite client.
  • The nicer you are to me on a regular basis the better deal you get. If we like you, we’re going to do our best for you and go out of our way to make sure you’re a happy customer. You want that Christmas tree hauled off? No problem. If you’re a terdball to me? Sure, we’ll take it. Next week. And charge you a disposal fee. You want that extra visit to blow your patio off before a party? If you’re nice: I’ll be there. If you’re a jerk: I’ll try to squeeze you in… oh, and next week we’re leaving 20 minutes early.
  • Best ways to earn points towards being the favorite client that gets impeccable service at the best price: 1. don’t treat me like ‘the help’. 2. offer me a cold beverage on a hot day or a hot beverage on a cold day. Or let me use that bathroom off the garage. Don’t: walk by like you don’t see me, laugh and say you wish YOU could work outside, (yeah? Oh, cause you think I’ve got an easy job? Spend a day in my boots and tell me if you still think so), and don’t give me orders that conflict with what your spouse says. I’m either listening to the one who signs the check, or the one who’s the nicest… depends on my mood.
  • Don’t just blow off the girls. Chances are we have a better eye for detail than the dudes who make up most of the landscape industry. And we’re better listeners to your concerns.
  • You get what you pay for. In this industry there’s always a dude in a rusty pickup truck that will charge you less than I will. He’s also probably not insured, doesn’t have proper licenses, and he probably got laid off in another industry and thought “hey, I have a lawnmower, I can do this.” What that means is he’s going to do a crappy job because he doesn’t know what he’s doing. It also means that I’m going to charge extra when you call me back because I’m going to have to fix everything that he messed up. Oh sure he can cut your grass, but he probably doesn’t even know what kind of grass it is. So how can he make sure it’s as green and lush as I kept if he doesn’t know what it needs?
  • We don’t like spiders either.
  • We especially don’t like bees, so give us a heads up if you’ve noticed a hive since the last time we were there.
  • If you pick up the kids’ toys in the yard, we’ll have more time for getting work done. If I have to spend 20 minutes piling toys on the patio so I can mow the grass, that’s 20 minutes I didn’t spend on weeds. But hey, you paid for the time; you decide how I spend it…
  • If you have a dog that doesn’t like strangers or has a bad attitude, please keep him inside during our scheduled visit time. We don’t want to have to knock on the door every week to have you round him up. If you aren’t home and he’s in the back yard I’m not going back there. Mowing your grass isn’t worth being mauled by a dog, thanks anyway. Oh, and please check to make sure we’re gone before you let him out. There’s nothing like being trapped in a back yard with an aggressive dog….
  • There are trade organizations, like MALTA in Atlanta, that I could be a member of. In theory: the more of these that I belong to the better my reputation and the more I’m held accountable by my peers. So I should be a safer bet than someone who doesn’t choose to interact with the industry in this way. But there are exceptions to every rule: I may also try to keep my overhead lower by avoiding membership dues to things like this.
Knowing these facts can help you build a more productive working relationship with the people who tend your landscape.  Think that it's not important?  Do you know that good landscaping can increase the value of your home by 15%?  You spent a lot of money for that landsaping whether it was there when you bought the place or not. Don't you want to know what those folks are doing to protect that investment?  I know if I had people walking around my house, working in my yard once a week, I'd want good communication and no ill will between us. But maybe that's just me...

Jessica Watters, GCLP                      Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Monday, November 15, 2010

Things Your Landscaper Won't Tell You:

  • I’ve peed in your yard... multiple times. Unless you’ve said “the basement/garage door is open, feel free to come in and use that bathroom in the corner there” we’ve gone number 1, and if necessity dictates, number 2 in your yard. Because depending on the company I work for I may not be allowed to make any unscheduled stops- and my truck has GPS tracking. Gotta do what you gotta “do”…
  • If you’re rude to me, you get worse service. Why would I do my best for you when you don’t appreciate it?
  • If I’m not insured and I get hurt on your property…. Guess who’s footing the bill. Hint: not me!
  • If I’m applying any chemicals (even Round Up) in your yard someone in the company has to have a Pesticide Applicator’s License and the company has to have a Commercial Applicator’s license. Am I going to get in trouble if I’m not properly licensed? Only if you ask to see my license, which is supposed to be in my wallet, and then tell on me if I can’t produce it. This is an attempt by the Department of Agriculture to prevent people from applying chemicals improperly. The test to get licensed is pretty difficult, but you want someone who knows his stuff well enough to pass- these chemicals are no joke.
  • If you aren’t home, I may eat my lunch on your lovely patio, by your lovely pool. I may even put my feet in the water. If I have a poor work ethic, I may be on the clock while I do that.
  • I probably don’t know how to prune properly. There’s a lot of technique to pruning, and it usually doesn’t involve any equipment with a motor on it. Landscapers who know how to prune will have a pair of pruners in a holster on their hip, and they won’t be shearing all of your shrubs every two weeks. If you want this kind of detail work and don’t see those red handles sticking out of a leather holster, find another company. (You will pay more for this knowledge though.)
  • The company I work for may be based on quantity not quality. I may have as many as 15-18 customers to visit in a day. That means I’m running behind my mower while the other dude starts blowing and we’re out of there as fast as possible and on to the next job. What about your weeds, you ask? Weeds? We didn’t see any weeds… You’re going to have to pay a little more to get a company who’ll spend the time to do the detail work needed to give you a great landscape: weeds, pruning, maintaining your flower beds, etc.
  • Just because I’m a landscaper, doesn’t mean I can do landscape design. Ask to see my portfolio with references if you’re thinking about upgrading your property. If I don’t have one, look elsewhere.
Coming soon: "Things Your Landscaper Wishes You Knew"

Jessica Watters, GCLP                       Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Jack-o-Lantern: A brief history.

     Have you ever stopped to wonder why you carve a scary face into that pumpkin every October, besides the fact that it’s fun? No? Well, here’s why:
     The story of the jack-o-lantern comes originally from Ireland. There once was a man called “Stingy Jack” and he was a dirty trickster. There are several versions of how he did it, but somehow he struck a bargain with the devil that he would not take Jack’s soul for a year. When Jack died an old man, Heaven wouldn’t have him and the Devil was still angry that he’d been tricked into the bargain and wouldn’t let him in either. Jack was left to wander between Heaven and Hell. He asked the devil how he was supposed to see because it was so dark and the devil laughingly tossed him a burning ember from the fires of hell. This Jack put into a carved-out turnip that he’d had in his pocket. Thus “Jack of the lantern” wandered for eternity. On All Hallows Eve, when souls like Jack’s were said to wander the earth, the superstitious Irish would place carved potatoes and other vegetables with candles on their window sills and doorways to scare away these spirits from their homes. It was only when the tradition came to America with Irish immigrants did the vegetable change to the larger, more easily carved pumpkin, Cucurbita pepo- which was native to the Americas.

Random Pumpkin Facts:
• The  largest pumpkin ever grown (on record) weighed 1,140 pounds
• Pumpkins are members of the squash family and are fruits.
• Pumpkins were once used to cure freckles and snake bites.

Jessica Watters, GCLP                                Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Friday, October 8, 2010

Beneficial Bugs: Lacewing

     Besides being an ingredient in polyjuice potion* the lacewing fly is also helpful as a predatory insect. It is actually bred specifically to be released into greenhouses to control pest populations and reduce the amount of pesticides needed! The lacewings are sold and distributed as eggs because when kept in close quarters they’ll turn cannibalistic. The eggs are then distributed through a garden, greenhouse, or field and the eggs hatch and the larvae eat problem insects. One lacewing can eat as many as 150 aphids a week! The list of pest bugs that the lacewing eats is too long to put here, but they are especially keen on mealy bugs and aphids.
    The most common lacewing in North America is the green lacewing which is about 15mm long, with very large wings and bright gold eyes. The larvae are freaky looking, see the photo of the one eating an aphid. They have large pincers that are used to suck the insides out of their prey (yum!)
     Now, don’t get these guys confused with lacebugs, ‘cause lacebugs are bad guys. They cause leaf damage to azaleas and pieris and such.

   *Polyjuice potion is from the Harry Potter books; a potion that when drunk allows you to take on the appearance of another person. Yes, I am nerd in more respects than just plants...

Jessica Watters, GCLP                    Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Native Plant of the Month

Nyssa sylvatica: Blackgum, Black Tupelo, Sourgum
     This lovely native is a medium/large sized tree that grows to 60-80’ tall and half as wide. The feature that I love about this plant is its fall color. It gets out shown by maples due to their sheer numbers but the color is truly spectacular: brilliant red to purplish in early autumn.
     The blackgum is native to pretty much the entirety of the east coast of North America. It will tolerate most soil conditions except for prolonged wet soil. It will also take any sun exposure, but will have better fall color with some sun.
     Its availability in garden centers is limited but not unheard of. It will probably not be in stock at your standard garden center but it is out there. Find a nursery that has a broader range of stock than just the ‘builder’s special’ items, or one that specializes in natives. If they don’t have it, they’ll surely order it for you.

Jessica Watters, GCLP                 Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Few Notes on Plant Selection

Alrighty kids, today’s lesson is about plant selection. Half of the issues that I see in landscapes, whether they be pruning, disease, or just unhappy plants, are the result of poor plant selection.

There are many factors that you should take into consideration when choosing a plant for you landscape:

Mature size: you see a shrub in the nursery and say “this plant is 3’ tall and 2’ wide and it’s awfully cute and it’ll go perfectly 1 foot away from the corner of my porch!” So you go home and plant it and it looks great! But a few years later (or less) if that shrub is actually say… a Nellie R. Stevens holly- which are sold in cute little sizes- that means your cute little shrub is actually going to try and be a tree and grow to a height of 30’! See the problem? You will be fighting a losing battle trying to keep that thing from taking over the sidewalk and everything else within a hop, skip and jump of where you planted it. (Like the top photo, right.)  A much better option would be something like a Steeds holly, which will politely stay under 5’ tall and about half as wide, with a lovely cone shape.  (The lower photo on the right is a strangler fig growing on top of a ruin. It didn't start on the ground, it started on the top and grew those roots down to the ground, an extreme example of bad plant placement, I know.)

Sun exposure: Have you ever seen a hydrangea looking wimpy in the full sun? What about a rose that’s planted in the shade and never flowers? Plants are biologically programmed to have preferred living conditions. If that hydrangea is planted in afternoon sun; a. it’s going to wilt EVERY day, b. the leaves will literally get sunburned, and c. it will hate you forever. Many plants prefer full sun though, especially heavily flowering and fruiting ones (not necessarily though) which will never produce a good flower show or fruit crop if not given enough daylight. So that means that you should do some research! Reading the tag on the plant may not be enough though. Many plants in your retail garden centers come from the prestigious Monrovia Growers for example, but did you know that Monrovia has nurseries in south Georgia as well as in Oregon? So if a tag on a plant grown in Oregon says full sun that may not mean full sun here in Hotlanta nor will the one from south Georgia that says shade necessarily thrive in the shade in Seattle. So try and find a local resource for your exposure and hardiness research. Oh, and just because a garden center here sells it, doesn’t mean it will survive here. I saw queen palms at Home Cheapo this summer; they’re hardy to zone 9B. We’re zone 7. Big difference.
Pest and Disease considerations: Are you one of the many folks that are moving with the trend to become ‘green’ by staying away from chemicals? But oh, you loooove hybrid tea roses. The problem? Roses get a multitude of pests and diseases: black spot, aphids, thrips…. So what are you going to do? Give in and spray or have crappy looking roses? If you don’t like chemicals buy disease resistant plants that aren’t prone to pests. Again, do your research before you buy.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again:  Like needing the right tool for the job, you need the right plant for the space.

Jessica Watters, GCLP                               Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

September Book of the Month

     So apparently I haven’t done a book of the month since JUNE! Shame on me for not keeping up with the blog like I should’ve been! I promise that once everything goes dormant I’ll have new posts on a regular basis- and I’ll do better to have new posts during future growing seasons. Cross my heart.
     Alrighty, so this month’s book is probably a choice that y’all were not expecting. I am an uber irrigation nerd and am inviting everyone to join me in nerddom! This book isn’t a book you’ll likely pick up for pleasure reading but it can come in incredibly handy if you ever need to troubleshoot your irrigation system. It’s fittingly called Trouble Shooting Irrigation Control Systems  by Bill Derryberry. This book lists and explains every electrical problem that can go wrong with your controller and valves. It also has good diagrams about the basics of how the valves work other than the electric aspect.
     It’s actually readable too, Derryberry has a sense of humor and he doesn’t write like an engineer. It’s surprisingly easy to follow.  The Irrigation Association endorses this book and sells it in their bookstore at trade shows and online at:
     If you have troubleshooting questions that aren’t answered in this book (or that you’re still confused about) you can always email me at and I’ll be happy to help you out!

Jessica Watters, GCLP               Horticulture Technician                   Chattahoochee Technical College

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Few Notes on Pruning:

     It’s summer now and your plants are probably lookin’ pretty darn good. They had a rainy spring without any bad frost and the rain has politely continued into the summer, for the most part. So they’re kickin’ butt. Maybe they need a little pruning…
     I want to address a pruning issue that is all too common: incorrect pruning of suckers. They are most often referred to as suckers, but I think technically the term is actually water sprout or epicormic shoot (yeah, who’s going to remember that?). This is a bit of growth that has just gone nuts and shot straight up out of the plant and now towers over the rest of the canopy of your shrub, or is sprouting off the trunk of a tree. It may not have many branches and the stem is probably a lighter color than the rest of the bark on your plant. This growth occurs most often when a plant has been heavily or incorrectly pruned, has been damaged (see photo, right, of a severely damaged tree that has grown suckers, this is an extreme example), is diseased or dying, and when there is a significant light increase due to the removal of nearby plants. Some plants also seem to grow suckers no matter what you do. When suckers occur they must be cut all the way back to their point of growth. They can’t just be tipped back to where they’re hidden inside the canopy! Why? Because a multitude of suckers will branch out of that severed sucker and come back with a vengeance. Then you’re up a creek, because you’ve lopped of several of the original suckers and they’ve now come back 5-fold and your plant looks so much worse than before. Take the time to remove it from the branch- or the base of the plant- where it came from. It will be a lot less hassle in the long run.
     Now, a lot of you are thinking “well I just take those hedge trimmer things and buzz ‘em all off…” I’m not going to get full-fledged onto my no shearing soapbox, but I’ll give you a preview: Okay, so you’ve sheared those few original suckers, you’ve sheared the many that came from those cuts, you’ve sheared the exponential increase from those cuts…. Now you have a super ugly plant don’t ya? You’ve got all the cuts and not a whole lot of foliage. Plus, you’ve got to shear the freakin’ thing every week or it’s hairy again. Here’s a hint: the more you prune; the more you have to prune. Making all those zillion cuts stimulates the plant to try to recover from the damage and it wakes up those epicormic buds and tells them to grow with all their might, and so they do. Then you whack ‘em back again… and again. Eventually you get this shell of growth where you’ve been cutting every time and it blocks light and air circulation to the interior of the plant which is an invitation for pest and disease. Not to mention that it’s highly unattractive. So, if you see think ‘oops, I’ve been shearing, is my plant unhealthy?’ Go outside, and pull the top branches apart and look inside. If the interior of your plant has very few or zero leaves, the answer is yes: your plant is unhealthy. You need to make a few large cuts to open the canopy to allow light and air into the middle of the shrub. Then it will look like a shrub again and not a green meatball.

Jessica Watters, GCLP           Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Landscaper's Bane: Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy: the mortal enemy of green thumbs everywhere. Every landscaper, gardener, dude who’s weedeated in shorts, and kid who’s played in the woods has inevitably encountered poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicans. And boy they knew about it!
Interesting facts you may, or may not know:
  • You grew up hearing your mother say ‘leaves of three, let it be!’ She was mostly right! Poison ivy always has a compound leaf with 3 leaflets, though other plants also have this leaf arrangement.
  • It spreads by reseeding- birds love the berries so they are carried far and wide, by creeping roots, and vines that put down roots as they grow.
  • It can be a creeping or climbing vine or a shrub.
  • It has oil that causes the rash when you contact the leaves, and if you encounter the roots or cut the stem, you’re in a heap o’ trouble cause that releases a crap-ton of oil.
  • Some people say they’re immune… they just haven’t gotten it yet. I do admit that there are, obviously, varying degrees of susceptibility.
  • If the oil stays on your skin for longer than a half hour, you’re doomed.
  • The oil on surfaces such as your gloves, clothes, or garden tools can be just as potent years later as if you’d just touched it.
  • You can get it in the winter even though it doesn’t’ have leaves.
  • If you burn poison ivy and inhale the smoke… well, I’ll send flowers. (It can be fatal in severe cases but it’s likely you’ll survive with some severe lung irritation and an ER visit.)
  • If you come in contact with poison ivy, wash in cold water with a dish soap to remove the oil.  Warm water will open your pores and allow the oil to penetrate... not good.
  • No creatures besides humans suffer from the rash from poison ivy.

 A similar plant to poison ivy is poison oak. I grew up with my mother telling me that 5 leaves was poison oak. What she thought was poison oak was really Virginia Creeper- Parthenocissus quinquifolia, bottom photo, which is completely harmless (See update below).  Poison oak is Toxicodendron pubescens, top photo. and looks nearly identical to poison ivy, but does not climb and grows only in shrub form. It also has more deeply lobed leaves.

What to do when you get the rash from poison ivy or oak:
  • If it is severe or on your face seek medical attention. 
  • There are several prescription or over the counter topical creams to aid the healing.
  • Don’t pop the blisters. The juice won’t make it spread, but it’s gross. It could also get infected.
  • Hot showers can ease the itching for several hours… it also feels instantly better. Run the water as hot as you can stand it and let it run over the rash, it burns, but at least it isn’t itching!
  • Go to the beach. That salt water does amazing things… rubbing alcohol also dries it up pretty well.
Well, there you go: some interesting tidbits on your favorite plant to hate, poison ivy.

Oh, wait.  How do you get rid of poison ivy growing in your yard?  See below. 

Seriously though, several applications of a non-selective or a broad-leaf weed killer should do the trick.

UPDATE:  Thanks to the heads up from a reader I've done some research and it appears that while Virginia Creeper doesn't have the rash-inducing oil on its leaves like poison ivy, it is fairly common for people to have a severe allergy to it.  So, pull Virgina Creeper with caution.  I've never gotten this rash, but apparently it happens.

Jessica Watters, GCLP                             Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Giant pumkpins? Yes, please!

     I have had an epiphany. I want to grow giant pumpkins. Y’all are going to go along on the journey! Well, assuming someone reads this. Mr. Hatfield had purchased some seeds from an Atlantic Giant pumpkin and he and his boys grew some last year. He has brought me a bag of seeds from a pumpkin they grew that was around 130-140 pounds. I’ve started them in the greenhouse today and hopefully they’ll germinate and we’ll be on our way to growing some ginormous pumpkins. The pumpkins pictured to the left were around 400lbs, by the way.

     So, apparently, what you have to do is let the vine get goin’ and wait until it has 6 to 8 baby pumpkins on it and measure the girth of each of them every day and remove all but the fastest growing one, so that it gets all the nutrients that the plant produces. By the end of the growing season, you should have a really huge pumpkin! There are however, obstacles to this. Squash bugs can decimate your vines, the plants require a lot of water and fertilizer because of their fast growth, and they can grow too quickly and bust open! They can even grow so large that they tear their own vine if there isn’t any slack in it! What you need to do is pick a pumpkin fairly close to the base of the plant and pull it back toward it a bit so that there’s a bend in the vine that will allow the pumpkin to grow without putting a kink in the vine or tearing the plant out of the ground.
     I am no campaigning for a PLANET SCD fundraiser of a pumpkin patch for next year. It’s too late to start it this year… wish me luck!
     I’ll keep you up to date with this year’s pumpkins!

Jessica Logan Watters, GCLP                     Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pesky Pest: Japanese Beetles

     Japanese beetles, Popillia japonica, are probably the most frequent pest insect to harm our gardens and landscapes. Native to Japan they were first discovered in 1916 and were suspected to have hitched a ride in a shipment of iris tubers that arrived at a nursery in New Jersey. Since then, they have gone on to establish themselves in nearly all of the eastern United States as far west as Arkansas and north to Ontario Canada.  They are about a half inch long and have a greenish to brownish metallic sheen.

     Japanese beetles are not a problem in their native Japan because of natural enemies that keep their populations down, but here in the US that’s not the case. Here they tend to gather in large numbers and decimate plants. (see photo below, taken by D. Gordon E. Robertson). They eat the tender parts of the leaves between the veins so that they’re ‘skeletonized’. They love roses, filberts, Japanese maples, sycamores, and many, many other plants. They do tend to avoid evergreens, I guess the leaves aren’t as tender.

     Well, how do you get rid of them?  One form of control we’ve seen for years is that bag trap thing you hang in your yard with the pheromone/scent lure. Well, research has shown that yes they do attract beetles very well, but unfortunately, they do not trap that many. The beetles are attracted to your trap and eat your plants on their way to the trap and they eat them as they hang around not being trapped in the trap… So hanging one in your yard will actually cause more damage to your plants than not having one at all. So maybe sneak one in the yard of that mean guy down the street… (kidding!) Seriously though, there are many different chemicals to control Japanese beetle populations out there. Despite this they are still hard to control. You have to apply a chemical to your turfgrass in early spring to kill the grubs, and then you have to spray for adults repeatedly through the summer because they are so mobile they can come to your yard from anywhere. So to me, that sounds like an awful lot of chemicals that aren’t that effective. One old school way to kill them that works for small infestations or small yards is soapy water. You can just knock them off the plants early in the morning when they’re sluggish and drop them in soapy water.  Sraying soapy water is somewhat effective as well.
     Now the best Japanese beetle control, according to our esteemed Mr. Bishop is to make margaritas. His advice is to take the down-the-street-neighbor’s full trap, dump it in your blender, add some water and spray this delightful concoction on your plants. And of course, don’t use that blender again for actual margaritas. Having never done this myself, I can only say that research has shown that live beetles avoid dead of their own kind.
So, good luck!

Jessica Watters, GCLP Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Native Plant of the Month: Bigleaf Magnolia

     The Bigleaf Magnolia, Magnolia macrophylla (macro meaning large, phylla meaning leaf), is a deciduous understory tree that grows to a height of 30-40’. It has the largest leaf and flower of any plant native to the United States, with the leaf measuring as much as 32” long and 12” wide! They are dark green above and silver below and are quite breathtaking.  Now, this photo, above, is quite beautiful but there's no point of reference for you to tell just how large everything is.  That flower is probably every bit of 8" tall.
     I’ve actually been campaigning to get one on campus when I discovered one last month in the woods surrounded by sweetgum saplings! (maybe I’m the only one who didn’t know it was there… I dunno.) Needless to say, the sweetgums are toast. Be sure you check it out next time you’re here- it’s back in the woods near the sidewalk at the hort. building, behind the adult-form ivy.
     If you have a wooded area and are looking for something a little different or unusual this would be an ideal specimen for a filtered/morning sun spot. It’d be a good idea to put them somewhere you won’t mind the leaves dropping in the fall… those big dried up leaves are fairly unsightly.

Jessica Watters, GCLP         Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Beneficial Bugs: The Praying Mantis

     I know, I know. Here’s another ‘beneficial’ insect that isn’t prey-specific. They just eat other bugs. But they eat a lot of bugs, and the majority of them are pest insects. And so, the praying mantis stays on my list.
     There are 17 native species of mantids in the US and they all have the same basic shape but they do have differences in their size and their coloring. Some are camouflaged to look like green leaves, some brown leaves, some tree bark… you get the idea.
     Praying mantises are predatory insects in that they catch live bugs and eat them, not by scavenging dead stuff or eating plants. They catch their prey by laying in wait and snatching it with those creepy arms or by running a short distance to catch something. And, the rumor is true: the female does sometimes eat the male after mating. Sometimes just his head, sometimes she consumes him entirely. Ew. But, sometimes he does get away.
     In the fall the female will lay between 10 and 400 eggs in a casing of a light brown, fairly hard structure (left). It’s usually wrapped around a twig or blade of grass or is sometimes laid directly on the ground- depending on the species. The nymphs emerge the next spring and typically resemble ants for their first stage of life (you can see the modified legs though) in an aid for survival.

Did you know?
  • That they are commercially available for placement in landscapes where gardeners want to avoid chemical pesticides?
  • That they are bred in captivity as part of an exotic pet trade in parts of Asia and Africa?
  • That non-native species are illegal to possess and release in the United States, under the Non-Native Invasive Species Act of 1992?
  • They are believed to have evolved from cockroaches?
  • The Australian mantis is apparently so tough that Austrialian geckos go into evasive maneuvers to aviod them?
....Now you know.

Jessica Logan Watters, GCLP             Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

June Horticulture Book of the Month

Apparently I missed May... Sorry y'all.

This book comes recommended from Bill Gruenewald:
" 'The Encyclopedia of Country Living' is a great book for any one to have. It's got a lot more than just Horticulture, but it has awesome "How to's" for grafting, Bee keeping (very detailed) Cultivating mushrooms and literaly anything you want to know about growing vegetables, shrubs and trees. It's also got a good list of medicinal herbs and ... See more plants that were commonly used "back in the days"(100 years ago) It's a great book! Every one in America should own a copy. Good for beginners and experts alike."

Sounds handy!  Thanks, Bill!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Native Plant of the Month: Solomon's Seal

     I’m starting a new monthly feature that I’ve been thinking about doing for a while, but have neglected so far. Native plants. With everyone worried about water and the huge movement toward low maintenance plants, one of the easiest ways to get on board is by going with native plants as often as possible. If you put a native plant in the conditions where it likes to grow (sun vs. shade, swamp vs. dry) after it’s established, it won’t need any supplemental water.
     So, now I’m trying to decide which of the many natives that are near and dear to my heart do I want to talk about first. A new addition to our perennial ID bed on campus that is native and that I looove is Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum biflorum. This shade-loving perennial adds a touch of elegance to any garden with is graceful, arching stems and delicate white flowers. It is available in variegated varieties (left) as well as ‘giant’ Solomon’s seal which will grow a foot taller than the usual 24” height. It grows in a ‘clumping’ fashion, it doesn’t take over but politely spreads into a nice little group. It is without a doubt, one of my top 5 favorite shade perennials.
     With all the showy choices out there, sometimes it’s nice to have a subtle, elegant addition to your perennial border or bed.

Photo is courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden PlantFinder
Jessica Logan Watters, GCLP     Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Green Roofs: How cool?

     One green concept that has fascinated me for quite a while is the green roof. I am astounded that you don’t hear more about them! A green roof is exactly what it sounds like; it’s a roof that is planted with vegetation.  Please see the photo to the right of a French museum, taken by Simon Garbutt. They’ve actually been around for centuries in Northern Scandanavia and Europe. Checkout the photo of a traditional farm village in Norway, bottom. Did you know, it's estimated that 10% of Germany's roofs are 'green'?
     One of the key benefits of a green roof is temperature reduction of roofing material. As you may know, the majority of buildings in urban areas are roofed with black asphalt and homes are roofed with dark asphalt shingles- they get hot! This combined with asphalt roads and few trees produces a pocket of hot air that surrounds the city, called the Urban Heat Island Effect. This area of hot air has even been known to change weather patterns!

How do green roofs reduce Urban Heat Island Effect, you ask? Well, imagine you’re walking barefooted on a July afternoon in Atlanta. You leave your front door and walk across your lawn; it feels nice on your tootsies. The temperature of your lawn is roughly the same as the ambient air temperature. Now, you decide to cross the asphalt road… “%&*@!” ...and your feet are blistered.  Black asphalt can easily reach temperatures of 175 degrees! It is exactly the same with most roofing materials; while a green roof is the same temperature as the air, perhaps even a couple of degrees cooler because of evapotranspiration, the black asphalt or shingles are significantly (80+ degrees!) hotter. Evapotranspiration (ET) is the process by which plants use water and evaporate it from their leaves- same concept as you sweating, the moisture evaporating cools your skin. Imagine how much of a difference this would make if most of the buildings in a city were to have green roofs… we’re talking an 80 degree difference on quite a bit of surface area here!  The photo to the left is a satelite image of New York City, the top being thermal imaging and the bottom being the vegetation.  Notice where the green is the temperature is cooler?  Point made, thank you.
     Another benefit of green roofs is storm water retention. During heavy downpours storm water is a major problem in most urban areas. Storm drains cannot handle a huge amount of water all at once and it causes flooding and puddling. Not to mention all the pollution that storm water washes into the sewers and directly into streams and lakes. A green roof with 4” of substrate (the stuff the plants grow in- regular soil is too heavy) will retain as much as 60% of rainwater. That’s awesome: a green roof will eliminate over half the runoff than what would’ve come off a conventional roof!
     Also a huge advantage is the return on investment that buildings with green roofs get: they lower cooling costs by as much as 30% annually, heating by 10%, and they have double, even triple the lifespan of a shingled roof! Plus, they look really neat!
     The biggest downfall of a green roof is the initial cost of installation. But the fact that energy costs are reduced so significantly and that the roof won’t have to be replaced near as often cancels that out in my opinion! One other drawback is that it is difficult to retro-fit a building to have a green roof, the weight of the substrate and plants is significantly higher than a conventional roof and most buildings are not designed to carry that load. BUT it can be done! The Atlanta and Chicago Citys Halls have installed a green roof on parts of their buildings! See Chicago City Hall, Below.

With all these benefits, why aren’t I hearing more about green roofs? I want to see them everywhere! They’re so much prettier than a nasty old black tar roof, too!

Jessica Logan Watters, GCLP               Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Beneficial Bug: The Writer Spider

     The writer spider (Argiope aurantia) goes by several names: garden spider, writing spider, black and yellow garden spider, among others.  Whatever you call them, they are both creepy and pretty at the same time.  This spider can be quite large and is usually found hanging in the center of her web, upside down, with legs together in pairs so it appears that there are only 4.  A particularly interesting thing unique to this genus of spiders is how they construct their web. They create a zig-zag looking design right in the middle where they hang out.  This structure is called a 'stabilimentum' and its purpose is not certain.  Some think it is to camouflage the spider from prey, and others think it is to make the web more visible to larger critters like birds and moths that could fly into the web and destroy it. 
     The spider that you see in the center of the web is the female, the male is much smaller and he often hangs out near, or even in, her web once he finds her. 
     In the fall they lay eggs in one or more sacks (left- this photo is courtesy of Sheri Newell) that look like an onion bulb.  She then dies with the first frost and the babies emerge in the spring and disperse to make their own webs. Now, you may be thinking that this is triggering something from your childhood.  It should be! Charlotte from 'Charlotte's Web' was a writer spider.  Do you remember how her babies left when the wind caught a small bit of web that acted like a parachute?  Well that's really how they do it!
     Another piece of trivia about this spider is an old wives' tale that I heard growing up.  If you come across a writer spider's web and see your name spelled in it... you're doomed!
     Well, how are they beneficial you ask.  They eat bugs.  They are fairly indiscriminate eaters, but do eat mosquitoes, flies and such.  While they don't dine specifically on problem insects like the lady bug does, they are without doubt a great addition to your garden. 
     Their bite, by the way, is similar to a fire ant sting and they have to be severely harassed to actually bite you- they usually just drop out of their web to the ground.

Jessica Logan, GCLP     Horticulture Technician, Chattahoochee Technical College

Monday, April 26, 2010

Carolina Wren- The Teakettle Bird

This post comes courtesy of Dub Strickland.  It's not 100% horticulture-related, but we like things in nature other than plants, you know.  Thanks Dub!

The Teakettle Bird

     “teakettle-teakettle-teakettle” “teakettle-teakettle-teakettle” Ounce for ounce the Carolina Wren is the loudest little bird you will ever hear. Thryothorus ludovicianus is about 6 inches long and weighs less than an ounce. He usually keeps his tail about 90 degrees to his body. His upper parts are a reddish brown while the under parts are a buff color. He has a distinctive white supercilium (eyebrow) and a whitish throat. There are several varieties of wren in the United States but the Carolina Wren is a common year round resident in the eastern United States and the one I most commonly see in my yard.
They are listed as secretive birds that “creep through vegetation foraging for insects.” But my feeling is they are almost sneaky. They are very territorial so the male does not hide much and with his loud call you will know where he is most all the time. The female on the other hand can be very secretive when it is time to sit on a nest and feed the young. I walked into a little used area of the basement late one morning to find 5 little wrens learning to fly from a nest that was in a half closed cupboard on the wall. She had to wedge through the crack in the door to take care of them.
     They prefer to eat insects but in the winter they are frequent visitors to my suet feeders and the peanut feeder. They also eat more of the mealy worms I leave for the Bluebirds than the Bluebirds do.

     One last thing. Since they don’t migrate this cold weather is hard on them. Clean your bird houses out and put a handful of shredded paper or other dry fluffy nesting material in it. They might thank you.

Dub Strickland
Georgia Master Naturalist
Sautee Nacoochee, GA

PLANET Student Career Days

Our First place team!

President of CTC, Dr. Sanford Chandler at the closing ceremony.

Brian Watters working for his second place win in Arboriculture with partner Kevin Porter.

Federico Trejo and Gay Lyn Ferry compete in the Truck and Trailer event.

The majority of the team hanging out after the last event, Landscape Plant Installation is finished.

These photos are courtesy of instructor John Hatfield.

April Book of the Month

Insects that feed on Trees and Shrubs- Warren T. Johnson and Howard H Lyon.  This month's book comes recommended by CTC instructor John Hatfield.  It contains clear color photos of the insect, including adult and larval forms, and the damage they inflicts on plants.  It is an excellent resource for diagnosing pest problems in your landscape.