Garden Talk: July 12, 2012

From NGA Editors

South Pacific Canna

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It's not too early to begin planning next year's garden, so canna enthusiasts and those looking to add tropical flair to their gardens will be pleased to see the announcement of one of the 2013 All-America Selection (AAS) Flower Award winners.

The boldly colored Canna 'South Pacific' will be an eye-catching addition to any garden. With its 4-inch, bright scarlet flowers atop a 4 to 5 feet plant, it makes a real statement whether used as focal point, the backdrop to a border, or even in a large container.

Bred by Takii & Co. Ltd, 'South Pacific' is the first F1 hybrid from seed and wowed the AAS judges with its robust nature and prolific blooms. It produces six to seven stems per plant, with larger flowers than other seed-grown cannas. 'South Pacific' flowers early, continues blooming consistently all summer long, and even withstands a light frost.

Like all cannas, it does best in moist, even wet, soil and makes a stunning pond-side planting. Plants in full sun will produce the best floral show. Cannas are perennials hardy to Zone 8. Gardeners in colder zones can dig the rhizomes before frost in the fall and store them over the winter for planting again the following spring.

For more information on 'South Pacific' canna, go to: AAS.

Seed Saving and Starting

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Are you interested in developing a tomato that is bred to thrive in the particular conditions found in your own home garden by selecting and saving seeds each year? Maybe you'd like to save seeds as a way to stretch your gardening budget. Perhaps you'd just like to delve a little deeper into growing a wide array of plants from seed. Whatever your area of interest, you're likely to find some helpful information in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Seed Saving & Starting by Sheri Ann Richardson (Alpha Books, 2012, $18.95).

Richardson starts by explaining the differences between open-pollinated and hybrid seeds and how that relates to seed saving, and clarifies terms such as heirloom seeds and GMOs. She then goes on to cover the ins and outs of seed saving; how to identify when seeds are mature, how to harvest them, prepare them for storage, and store them to maintain their viability.

Of course, the whole point to saving seeds is to grow them later! You'll find information on germinating and testing your seeds, special techniques some seeds need in order to sprout, and advice on sowing seeds both indoors and directly in the garden. If you are interested in creating new varieties through your own breeding program, Richardson tells you how to do this. There is also a helpful seed directory with specific seed harvesting, germinating, and sowing information for a wide range of flowers, fruits, vegetables, herbs, even grains.

For more about this book, go to: The Complete Idiot's Guide.

Conserving Bumblebees

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We hear a lot these days about colony collapse disorder and the problems facing honeybees. But many folks are not aware that our native bees are struggling as well. The nearly fifty species of bumble bees in North America are important pollinators of a wide variety of flowering plants, including crops such as tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, and clover. Unfortunately, their numbers are declining, due to a number of factors such as the introduction of non-native pathogens, pesticide use, climate change, and loss of habitat.

Individual gardeners and landowners may not be able to address all these bumble bee threats, but they can take steps to provide the high-quality habitat bees need for survival, habitat that provides plants for nectar and pollen and sites for nesting and overwintering. To help this happen, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has put together a helpful online publication (also available in a print copy). Conserving Bumble Bees: Guidelines for Creating and Managing Habitat for America's Declining Pollinators begins with an overview of the important role bumble bees play as pollinators and their natural history. It then outlines the various threats to bumble bee survival, including habitat fragmentation, harmful grazing practices, pesticide use, imported pests and diseases, competition with honey bees, and climate change.

Next come suggestions for ways in which gardeners and landowners can help. One way is by choosing native plants. These are plants with which the bees co-evolved and which they know how to use. And well-chosen native plants that are adapted to their site are likely to need less supplemental water, fertilizer, and pesticides to thrive. When planting horticultural varieties of flowers, the publication suggests using heirloom varieties, since the breeding of modern hybrids has often resulted in reduced amounts or a decrease in the nutritive value of pollen and nectar. Choose perennials over annuals, as they provide higher quality nectar, and select plants with flowers in the purples, blues, and yellows that bumble bees prefer.

To read more about the problems facing bumble bees and additional strategies for helping them; order a print copy of Conserving Bumble Bees; and find out more about the Xerces Society, go to: Xerces Society.

Unraveling the Mysteries of Tomato Genetics

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After years of work by scientists from around the world, the Tomato Genome Consortium announced that the full genome of the tomato has been decoded, specifically that of the variety 'Heinz 1706', as well as that of its wild relative Solanum pimpinellifolium.

Knowledge of the sequence of the tomato's 35,000 genes arranged on 12 chromosomes will help plant breeders develop varieties with improved yields, nutrition, disease resistance, and taste. Although unraveling the gene sequence of this first tomato variety cost millions of dollars, according to James Giovannoni of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research (located on the Cornell University campus), one of the researchers who participated in the project, this groundwork will enable breeders and seed companies to sequence the genomes of other varieties at a much more reasonable cost.

The research into tomato genetics is expected to have benefits beyond the realm of tomatoes, however. Crops as diverse as strawberries, apples, melons, and bananas share characteristics such as the pathways involved in fruit ripening. ″Now we can start asking a lot more interesting questions about fruit biology, disease resistance, root development and nutritional qualities,″ Giovannoni notes.

To read more about the sequencing of the tomato genome, go to: Cornell Chronicle.

 
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