Garden Talk: February 23, 2012

From NGA Editors

Say "Aloha" to Echinacea

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Can't make it to Hawaii for a vacation this year? You can at least bring a little island color into your garden this year with the new hybrid coneflower 'Aloha'. Bred by Terra Nova Nurseries, this new Echinacea cultivar has wide, melon-yellow petals surrounding an orange cone, a blend of colors that can lend some tropical flair to your garden.

The fragrant, 4 1/2 inch wide flowers are borne on 2 1/2 foot tall and wide plants from summer to frost and will not only delight your eyes but attract bees and butterflies -- even feed the birds if you let some blossoms go to seed at the end of the season. 'Aloha' makes a lovely garden companion to garden phlox, bee balm, rudbeckia, and ornamental grasses, looks striking planted en masse, and is an excellent cut flower.

Adapted to Zones 4-9, like all coneflowers, 'Aloha' will do best in full sun. While plants will do best in soils with consistent moisture, their deep taproots enable them to weather dry spells well.

For more information on 'Aloha' echinacea, visit National Garden Bureau.

Jammin' in the Garden

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Deeply colored flowers can add a striking accent to garden beds and container plantings. And there are few that offer a more dramatic hue than Vinca 'Jams 'N Jellies Blackberry', one of the 2012 All-America Selections Flower Award winners.

The velvety, deep purple flowers accented with a small white eye are of such a deep hue that in some settings they appear almost black. The color combines well with both hot and cool shades. Imagine the ″pop″ when combined with bright orange flowers or the smoldering drama when mixed with shades of pink, blue, and lavender. The possibilities are endless!

Vinca (Catharanthus roseus) is an easy to grow tender perennial grown as an annual. The shiny dark green foliage sets off the flowers that bloom from summer to frost on 10-24 inch tall plants. It does best in full sun and tolerates heat and dry soil when established. It works well in mass plantings, in the flower border, as an edging plant, and in containers. Wait until the air and soil are warm and all danger of frost is past before setting this heat-lover out in the garden.

All-America Award winners are new varieties selected by independent expert AAS judges on the basis of their superior garden performance in trial gardens all across the country.

For more information on Vinca 'Jams 'N Jellies Blackberry', go to: All-America Selections.

Bats in Trouble

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In 2006 a previously unknown disease was discovered killing bats in northern New York State. Since then the disease, now called white-nose syndrome for the symptom it causes in infected bats, has spread to colonies in sixteen states and four Canadian provinces, killing as many as 6.7 million bats in the process. This huge die-off threatens several species of bats with extinction if the disease continues unchecked, and so far research into the problem has produced more questions than answers.

The new mortality figures were released recently at the Northeast Bat Working Group's annual meeting held in Pennsylvania, one of the states whose bat population has been hard hit by the epidemic. Although a few bats were found in Vermont last summer that were confirmed survivors of the disease, raising hopes for a resurgent population resistant to the disease, severely decimated populations are very vulnerable to other pressures such as habitat loss and environmental contaminants.

So far white-nose syndrome hasn't made big inroads into the bat populations in the Midwest and South, areas with some of the largest bat populations in the country. This is one of the reasons scientists are working hard to understand the disease so they can come up with a way to stop its spread. Congress has recently allocated $4 million in the effort to control this disease.

Bats feed on an enormous number of insects, and their decline could have a big impact on pest populations affecting both agriculture and home gardening. Some estimates are that the number of pest insects eaten by bats save farmers from having to spend between $3.7 billion and $53 million annually on pesticides -- a whopping figure that doesn't take into account the benefit to the environment as a whole from reduced pesticide usage.

To find out more about the Northeast Bat Working Group, go to: N.E.B.W.G.. To learn more about white-nose syndrome, go to: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Thirsty Lawns

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Here's a question for you. Which covers a greater acreage in the United States -- lawns or irrigated corn fields? If you guessed lawns, you got it right. According to a study published in the journal Environmental Management there are 40 million acres of land planted to turf grasses across the country. That's more acreage than is planted to the eight largest irrigated crops combined -- corn, alfalfa, soybeans, fruit and nut trees, and vineyards.

Keeping all that turf watered can claim a big chunk of water resources. Researchers estimated the amount of water needed to give all those lawns about 2 1/2 centimeters of water a week through a combination of natural rainfall and sprinklers required more water nationwide than that supplied to the country's seven greatest water-using crops.

The point to take away from this is that, even though each individual lawn may be relatively small in size, when taken together maintaining all that turf represents a very significant use of water, a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce in many parts of the country. It reinforces the importance of all homeowners looking at their lawn maintenance practices to come up with ways to minimize water use, using strategies such as only applying water when needed, growing drought resistant grasses, and reducing the amount of property planted to water-hungry lawn.

To read more about the comparison between crop and lawn water usage, go to: Scienceline.

 
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