Garden Talk: November 19, 2009

From NGA Editors

New Colorful Butterfly Bush

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The butterflies have flown South and West for the winter, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking of ways to lure them back into your garden next summer. Butterfly bushes (Buddleia) are great butterfly attractors. While there are many selections available, here’s a new variety that features an unusual flower color and dwarf growth habit.

‘Miss Ruby’ buddleia only grows 4 feet tall and wide. It produced vivid, bright pink flowers in mid-summer on new shoot growth. It is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9. In cold areas it may die back to the ground in winter, but the roots will survive. ‘Miss Ruby’ was rated number one out of 107 buddleias recently trialed by the Royal Horticultural Society at England’s famed Wisley Gardens.

For more information on ‘Miss Ruby’, go to: Color Choice .

Colorful Book on Plants

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While most gardeners enjoy practical books on gardening techniques and plants, sometimes it’s nice to have a book that just wows you. The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants (Firefly Books, 2009) by Wolfgang Stuppy, Rob Kesseler, and Madeline Harley is a compilation of the best material from three previously published books: Pollen, Seeds, and Fruits. It features other-worldly, full-color photos of pollen, seeds, and fruits. The photos are striking close-ups, revealing an extraordinary world of shapes, colors, and sizes. While the book also contains botanical drawings and literary references, it’s the photos that keep you coming back for more. Without the engaging text to describe the images, you might think the photographs were from a computer- generated, fantastical imagination.

For more information on this book, go to: Firefly Books.

Don’t Touch Your African Violets

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There’s no doubt that African violet plants are beautiful. In looking at and caring for them, it’s tempting to touch the fuzzy leaves and colorful flowers. While most plants can take this attention with no adverse results, African violets seem to be sensitive to the touch.

Researchers at Oklahoma State University tested the sensitivity of African violets to “brushing”. While it’s known in some cases, such as with tomatoes, that brushing plants can be used to control plant size and prevent legginess, researchers found that African violets didn’t like it at all. Two cultivars of African violets were brushed five times a day. They were brushed for 30 or 90 seconds each time. Control groups were compared to groups brushed with a naked hand treated with hand lotion and with a gloved hand. They found plants brushed with the lotion-treated hand had higher damage ratings and smaller and lower quality leaves when compared to the gloved hand. Both treatments created more damage than the control group. So next time you’re tempted to pat your African violets, resist!

For more information on this study, go to: Science Blog

Bird Feeders Spread Noxious Weeds

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Bird feeding is a popular fall activity. People love to watch the birds gathering at the feeder; plus, feeding helps birds survive the winter. However, anyone who has watched birds at a feeder knows they can be messy eaters. Much of the bird seed drops to the ground under the feeder. If the birds aren’t dropping seeds, sometimes it’s the squirrels invading the feeder. In either case, the seed that drops often germinates. While we’d like to think all the seed in your bird feed bag is pure, research conducted at Oregon State University found the seed from 10 common brands of bird feed contained more than 50 noxious weed seeds as well. In a study, they found that 30 weed species, such as bindweed, velvetleaf, and ragweed , sprouted under bird feeders. These weeds can then spread to nearby fields and gardens.

You can’t teach birds to be better eaters, but there are ways to prevent these weeds from getting started. Researchers suggest using a tray under your feeder to keep seeds off the ground and selecting bird foods that won’t sprout, such as sunflower hearts, peanut butter, raisins, mealworms, and plain suet cakes. Some seed manufacturers are now baking seeds before selling them to kill weed seeds. Look for baked wild bird seeds at your garden center.

For more information on preventing weeds from spreading from your bird feeder, go to: Weed Science Society of America

 
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