Author Archives: Ben Martin

BIRD SEED – GET IT RIGHT!

bird standing on bird feeder

BIRD SEED – GET IT RIGHT!

By Kathy Torres

No fewer than 63.1 million people fed birds in their backyards in 1991, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, $2 billion was spent on bird seed alone, a figure that does not include money spent on bird feeders and other equipment (reported by The Washington Post – Click HERE for the article.) I believe it’s a safe bet that the numbers have only increased in the last decade and that birding is alive and flourishing in the United States standing firmly in the outdoor recreation economy.

Turning our homes into our playgrounds became very popular recently, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only did we spend more time at home, but we also spent more money on our landscapes, gardens, etc. to enhance our experience while stuck at home. The appeal of a bird feeder or two, combined with a bird bath, also inspired us, as our interest in the beautiful wildlife right around us expanded. Of course, as the numbers above illustrate, there was a hefty population already on the birding bandwagon. It’s certainly not new, and a hobby enjoyed by many, but the interest has risen to new heights. Humans seem to be realizing the pleasure and reward found in observing and caring for birds, our charming neighbors of many colors, sounds, and characteristics!

The Post also reported “when just two bird fanciers get together, they can talk at length about the relative merits of different kinds of bird seed and the myriad ways to foil squirrels bent on snatching seed. Further, bird fanciers proudly list the kinds of birds that visit their backyard feeders as if they were counting precious pearls.” The variety of birding merchandise available to the consumer in local garden centers has opened up a whole new world of choices for bird enthusiasts. Because it has become so popular, new creativity in products available has emerged on store shelves over recent years, providing an upgrade in feeders and seed, and the conclusion is that the benefits of spending a little more are definitely worthwhile.

Many of us have learned the hard way, that good seed is a must in our feeders. The first feeder that I added to my yard was quite inexpensive and so was the seed I purchased. I had no clue what was in it or what varieties of birds it would attract. What I realized quickly, was that a lot of the seed was being discarded, creating a lovely patch of weeds under the feeder. The last thing you want is for the seed to create a mess. The primary reasons this happens are… (1) Seeds may have inedible hard outer shells. Birds crack open the shell to get to the meaty kernel inside while the outer hulls drop to the ground below, and (2) Not all birds like all seeds or foods. Birds will eat their favorite first and throw the rest out of the feeder and onto the ground. Buying a better seed or seed mix gives you more bang for your buck and cuts down on creating additional work for yourself cleaning up the ground around the feeder.

So, what is better birdseed? If you want to keep it simple but attract a variety of birds, black oil sunflower seed reigns supreme in the backyard bird-feeding world and is a great way to get started. (There will be some cleanup of the discarded shells, so, if you would rather not go there, consider the shelled version.) “Black oil sunflower seeds are related to regular sunflower seeds, but they’ve been cultivated to have a higher fat content,” says John Rowden, the senior director of bird-friendly communities at the National Audubon Society. For more information on black oil sunflower seed, including what birds it attracts, check out the Birds and Blooms website HERE.

When selecting quality seeds, you’ll find combinations that attract a variety of birds, as well as seeds created to attract specific birds, for instance, thistle, for finches. If you’re a beginner, it’s wise to choose the “one size fits all” version, then as you gain experience, you may wish to add a feeder with a more selective following. Most important in selecting good bird seed is making sure it doesn’t contain a lot of stuff the birds DON’T eat. Many of the less expensive seed combinations have large portions of milo, a cheap grain harvested from the sorghum plant. It is used as “filler” and most backyard birds don’t like it. Here’s an easy GUIDE from Cornell University Ornithology Labs to give you some direction on seed types to look for and the birds they attract.

The easy path to good seed will take you to Wings-n-Things, Wingard’s Birding Department, located in the Produce Market, where you will find Cole’s Wild Bird Seed brand. Like Wingard’s, Cole’s is a family business with an interesting history. To read all about it, click HERE. Their philosophy is “Birds can be very picky eaters and if you put out the wrong feed, they’ll snub their noses at you and move on to your neighbor’s feeder looking for something better.” Cole’s offers quality seeds that will bring you success at the feeder with ingredients, thoughtfully produced to meet the wants and needs of many different species of birds. The seed contains no added synthetics, no added chemicals, and no artificial flavors. And most importantly, the birds love it, so you won’t be wasting your money!

Cole’s Wild Bird Seed has a great website to access all the information you need on their products, coleswildbird.com. Check it out and if you have any questions, call Zach Steinhauser, Wingard’s wildlife conservationist, and he will get you headed in the right direction. In the meantime, here are a few of the Cole’s seed products at Wingard’s, just to get you familiar.

blue ribbon blend coles bird food

BLUE RIBBON BLEND: Contains sunflower, white millet and cracked corn. Guaranteed to bring the best combination of perch and ground feeding birds.
Attracts: Cardinals, titmice, chickadees, Goldfinches, juncos, White-throated sparrows, Indigo Bunting, wrens, grosbeaks, woodpeckers, towhees

blazing hot blend coles bird food

BLAZING HOT BLEND: traditional mix with most preferred seeds of backyard songbirds, combined with a habanero chili oil formula to discourage squirrels. Harmless to birds.
Attracts: Woodpeckers, grosbeaks, buntings, cardinals, chickadees, bluebirds, goldfinches, song sparrows, titmice, wrens

sunflower meats coles bird food

SUNFLOWER MEATS: No waste, no mess, pure sunflower. You will get more feed per pound and no messy hulls to clean up. Perfect for decks and balconies.
Attracts: Bluebirds, chickadees, cardinals, titmice, finches, woodpeckers, wrens, buntings, grosbeaks, towhees, nuthatches, song sparrows, and doves

safflower bird seed coles bird food

SAFFLOWER: Favorite of Cardinals. Squirrels and large “nuisance” birds don’t like it!
Attracts: Cardinals, nuthatches, titmice, and chickadees

blue ribbon blend coles bird food

SUET BLUE RIBBON BLEND: Bluebirds, cardinals, chickadees, warblers, buntings, nuthatches, woodpeckers, wrens
Attracts: Cardinals, nuthatches, titmice, and chickadees

Cole’s DOES NOT use filler seeds like Milo, Wheat, Red Millet, Flax, or old crop leftovers. Only the top 1-2% of each crop is used and cleaned a minimum of 4 times to ensure you get good quality seed – not sticks and dirt. Seeds are kept as close to a natural state as possible and never washed with chemicals or oil to make them look better.

As winter approaches, it’s time to think about helping the birds get through. By providing food, we can increase their capability to survive and flourish. And while giving this aid, we are paid back in full, and then some, by the beauty of wildlife right in our own backyards. If you really get the birdwatching fever, you can participate in Cornell’s FeederWatch tracking program. The season begins November 1. FeederWatch – Count Feeder Birds for Science.

Just to entice you, take a look and listen HERE.

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!

The Language of Plants

The Language Of Plants

By Kathy Torres

I think I inherited the “gardening gene” from my Grandmother and my Dad. As a young girl, I
witnessed my Grandmother’s love of roses. When my sister and I visited in the summer, we
watched her tend to her small rose garden, and after the work was completed, she would bring
in her cuttings, fill a vase and place it on the kitchen table. In the fall, we also helped collect the
pecans that had fallen from the two enormous pecan trees in the front yard. Then, of course,
we helped to “crack and pick” them, munching on a few here and there. In his later years, my
Dad built a greenhouse where he spent time in the spring rooting clippings and making
gorgeous hanging baskets that he gave to friends and neighbors (and daughters). He even sold
a few. He was especially proud of the Christmas cactus baskets that he would deliver in full
bloom during the holidays. I cherish these memories. I didn’t realize it then, but these
experiences and, maybe, that “gardening gene” stoked some kind of CRAZY desire in me to dig
in the dirt and tend to the trees, bushes, and flowers. And, tomato plants! Either way, I began
to notice, appreciate and understand the language of plants.

Plants really do speak to us in what they represent, how they make us feel, and the messages
we apply to them. Actual flower codes were established in the Victorian era. During a time
when social etiquette (for the upper class) was quite restrictive. A nosegay or tussie-mussie, a
combination of flowers and herbs, was a popular choice when expressing interest in a particular
young lady. Suitors presented tussie-mussies and watched to see if the recipient held it at
heart level, indicating happiness and acceptance. Holding the bouquet pointing downward was
a sign of rejection. Not only did a certain flower have significance, but colors also expressed
variations in intent or emotions. Even today, a red rose is considered an expression of
passionate or true love, a pink rose is a sign of affection, white roses are associated with purity,
and yellow roses with friendship. Several floral dictionaries were published to explain the secret
language of flowers (floriography). Sweet freesia signifies trust and friendship in floriography.
Thrift or armeria symbolizes sympathy. Hollyhocks stand for fruitfulness and ambition. The
earliest flower dictionary was written in Paris in 1819; it was titled, Le Language de Fleursand.
In 1879, a book written by Miss Corruthers of Inverness, became the guide to the meanings
behind flowers throughout England and the United States.

Understanding the characteristics of plants guides us to place them properly, understand their
family history and relation to other species. Another way of looking at the language of plants is
through botanical names, a Latin combination of at least two names that have been assigned to
every single plant in creation. Many of the Latin names translate in English so that we
recognize the meaning. For instance, Juniperus horizontalis is a Juniper that spreads over the
ground. If the second word in the botanical name is odoratum or odoratissimum it is fragrant.
Color is sometimes identified… Red is rubrum, as in the red maple (Acer rubrum); purple is
purpureus; white is albus. For most of us who are limited in our understanding of Latin, the
common name, is how we identify plants, but unless the color is included, the name doesn’t tell
us much. The common name is more like any other name; it is a title, not necessarily a
description. Magnolia, Azalea, Boxwood, are a few examples. Educating ourselves and
becoming familiar with a plant’s name and features allows us to get acquainted and connect.
Various ideals and characteristics are often associated with certain plants, and they are given as
gifts in that spirit. Here are a few in the house plant category symbolizing a particular theme or
intention:

Air Plant (Tillandsia) – Freedom and creativity – For people who like change or live in small
spaces.

Bonsai (Juniperus procumbens) – Harmony, wisdom, and calm – For someone who needs more
balance in their life.

Cactus (Cactaceae) – Protection and endurance – For someone who is very determined or going
through a tough time.

Ficus (Ficus microcarpa) – Abundance and peace – For someone who is a leader to symbolize
unity and success.

Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena braunii) – Good fortune and longevity – For someone who is entering
a new chapter in life.

Money Tree (Pachira aquatica) – Wealth and good fortune – For someone who is career-driven
or starting a new business.

Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum) – Peace and sympathy – For someone who went through a recent
loss or needs a reminder of peace in their life.

Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) – Cleanliness and tenacity – For someone who is creative or
as a housewarming gift because it naturally purifies the air.

Succulent (Sedum morganianum) – Loyalty and endurance – For someone who’s trustworthy
and always there for you.

If you’d like to go further with this, check out these plants and what they symbolize. Click HERE.

The holidays are the best example of plants sharing a message. Lilies give us the hope of spring
at Easter. Mums, pansies and brilliant fall leaves remind us it is time to be thankful, and then
Christmas! Nothing makes the home feel more festive than bright red Poinsettias, fresh
wreaths, Christmas cactus, and of course, the fresh cut Fraser Fir. The Christmas tree is a focal
point in our home that holds cherished ornaments and warms our hearts with bright lights and
feelings of nostalgia. It may take us back to years past and sometimes we may even drift back
to childhood. Nature softens the harshness of the world in a way that we really need at these
busy times. And what better way to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” than by giving
a live plant as a gift.

Life presents many joys and sorrows. Plants are often a messenger of love, thanks,
congratulations, best wishes, holiday greetings, as well as sympathy, to provide encouragement
as we navigate through our time on earth. Not only do plants help us to convey our feelings,
they often help us hold on to a memory. For instance, the first time your special guy sent roses,
the chrysanthemum corsage you wore to Homecoming, the pink carnations sent by friends
when your daughter was born, the tree you planted when you bought your first home, the rose
bush sent by a friend when you lost someone you love. My Mom passed away a few years ago
and a friend sent a miniature yellow rose plant. It was about 8 inches tall. I have tried to take
particularly good care of it over the years and have since transplanted it at least 3 times; it’s
now about 3 feet tall. The small yellow roses are a beautiful reminder of my Mom and the
friend who gave the plant to me.

Plants are accents we use to soften and enhance the look and feel of our homes, both inside
and out. Garden rooms are created to entertain, spend time with family, to enjoy quiet time
alone. Of course, it’s about making a pretty landscape, curb appeal, etc. but at the root is our
intention to provide a “welcoming” environment. If our shrubs, trees, and flowers could speak,
I believe that is what they would say. Plants make us feel happiness and joy; they feed us, give
us a wonderful hobby, all the while painting a picture that accents important times in our lives.
Receiving good wishes from others or sending good wishes, feeling satisfaction and joy from
working the garden is hearing the language. Investing yourself in the flower bed or the
vegetable garden or simply creating a collection of container gardens offers a relationship with
nature, a connection to growth and beauty. Through caring for the plants you maintain a sort
of friendship, which, like human relationships, thrives with care or suffers with neglect. Think
about extending that friendship to a neighbor by giving away plants you are dividing. Sharing
brings joy on both ends. I had a special friend, Mrs. Carrie, who taught me all about day lilies
years ago. She gave me quite a few from her garden. When they bloom, I think of her and how
she inspired me. That’s the language of plants.

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!

Shade Trees

by Kathy Torres

There’s a great old jazz song titled Up a Lazy River, written in 1930. It has been recorded by many artists over the years, from Hoagy Carmichael, Louis Prima, the Mills Brothers, to more modern day singers like Bobby Darin and Michael Buble. The lyrics are timeless and invoke feelings of a sultry, summer afternoon, and a cool place to slow down and escape.

bar of music

Up a lazy river by the old mill run.
The lazy, lazy river in the noon day sun.
Linger in the shade of a kind old tree.
Throw away your troubles.
Dream a dream with me.

While most of us, unfortunately, don’t have a river in our back yard, a kind old shade tree is a definite possibility! During this time of year in South Carolina when the summer heat is at its peak, we are struggling to even go outside and water the plants, and can certainly use some relief. An early morning cup of coffee or a late afternoon glass of iced tea under a beautiful, wide canopy of shade is just the ticket to escape the heat, and maybe even slow down a bit.

There are lots of options for shade trees that do well here, and some that grow pretty fast. With fall approaching, it’s time to begin thinking about what you may want to plant. Fall is the ABSOLUTE BEST time for planting trees and shrubs and here’s why: (1) It’s about to get cooler which means less watering will be necessary because the ground doesn’t dry out so fast, AND, the plants are not so stressed. In addition, rain is typically more abundant, another way we get a break from watering. (2) Because the winter is fairly mild here and the ground doesn’t freeze, plants can get rooted in, even though they are dormant and not producing new growth above ground. Establishing the root system will increase chances of good growth in the following spring and summer. (3) Disease and pests are not an issue, for the most part.

Following is a list of trees that will grow big enough to provide significant shade for you to enjoy any time, but especially in the hot, hot, summer. It will take a few years to get there, but the wait is worthwhile!

WILLOW OAK – I’m starting with this one because it is my personal favorite for a very fast growing tree. Grows to 40-60 ft. tall with a 35 ft. spread; Willow-like leaves; Deciduous (drops leaves in winter); Grows in a pyramid shape in its youth, then an oblong-oval to rounded shape at maturity. Foliage is light to bright green in summer and yellow, yellow-brown and russet in fall; Tolerates poorly drained soil.

willow oak shade trees

LIVE OAK – Mature size is 40-80 ft. tall with an 80 ft. spread; Round shape; Evergreen, however some yellow leaves will drop in spring as new growth emerges; Grows rapidly when young and may live to be centuries old; Adapts to almost any soil; Does well in coastal areas; Historical significance CLICK HERE.

live oak shade trees

PIN OAK – Mature Size is 40-60 ft. tall by 35-40 ft. wide; Fast-growing; Deciduous (drops leaves in winter); Pyramid shaped growth habit. Foliage displays scarlet to russet fall color.

pin oak shade trees

RED MAPLE OCTOBER GLORY – Mature size is 40-50 ft. tall by 30-40 ft. wide; Moderate to fast growth rate; Deciduous; Round shape; Tiny, conspicuous red flowers bloom in spring; Showy red fruit attracts many birds and other wildlife; Radiant red leaves in fall.

red maple october glory shade trees

RED MAPLE AUTUMN BLAZE – Fast growing; reaches 50-60 ft. tall by 40 ft. wide; Deciduous; Brilliant, long lasting, orange-red fall color; Upright, uniform branching habit.

red maple autumn blaze shade trees

SUGAR MAPLE – Grows to 60-75 ft. tall with a 40-50 ft. spread; Medium to dark-green leaves turning yellow, burnt orange or red in fall; Deciduous; Slow to medium growth rate; Tolerates shade; Produces small, greenish-yellow flowers in groups that curve downward on long, delicate stems, blooming in April and May; Round or oval shape.

sugar maple trees

PRINCETON AMERICAN ELM – Fast-growing; Deciduous; Upright, symmetrical growth habit; Good resistance to the Dutch elm disease, which has been a problem for the American Elm; Height 50-70 ft. by 30-50 ft. wide; Inconspicuous blooms in spring; Yellow foliage in fall.

princeton american elm

SYCAMORE – One species and one hybrid common in SC are American planetree and London planetree; Massive tree that grows 70-100 ft. tall with a similar spread; Deciduous; Pyramid form in youth, developing a spreading, rounded crown with age; Moderate growth rate; Handsome exfoliating bark; Yellow-brown fall foliage; 1-inch fruit hangs from the tree on long stalks through most of the winter.

sycamore tree

TULIP POPLAR – Mature height is 70-130 ft. by 30-60 ft. wide; Fast-growing; Deciduous; Tulip-like, fragrant yellow flowers with green to yellow petals and reddish-orange bands appear in spring to early summer (after foliage appears); Supports pollinators and is a larval host plant; Yellow to gold fall foliage.

tulip poplar

Several of these trees require a large piece of property and may not be suitable for your landscape. Always make sure you make selections based on the mature size of the tree and the space you have available. All of these trees need a minimum of 6 hours of sun, but can handle full sun all day. In the first year or two, especially during periods of drought, use a Tree Gator (available at Wingard’s) to keep it watered adequately.

Another trick is to use a 5 gallon bucket with a small hole in the bottom; fill it with water, place it over the root ball and let it slowly leach into the soil. If you plant this fall, wait until next year to fertilize.

The trucks will soon be coming in at Wingard’s to stock up the inventory of trees for fall planting. If you have the space in your landscape, think about planting one of these large trees that will offer a shady resting spot for you and your family in the years to come.

Now…if you’ve never heard the song, check it out HERE.

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!

Food – It’s Complicated

By Kathy Torres

We spend a lot of time these days reading labels on food products for the health and safety of our families, and also to satisfy our taste buds.  At Wingard’s Market, we continue to provide fresh produce and gourmet food items, with the same ideas in mind.  We thought it might be a good idea to expand on some of the categories, labeling and certifications you will observe when you shop, for instance Heirloom, Hybrid, Organic, Non-GMO.  You’ve probably become familiar with these terms in our market, as well as your local grocery store, but maybe you have found them to be a little confusing.

Heirloom vegetables are old varieties that have been passed down from generation to generation.  Native Americans have been saving seed since the pre-Columbian era while old European crops may be over 400 years old. They have a history, and are a tribute to families who have planted, harvested and passed the seeds on.  To be capable of being saved, all heirloom seed must be open-pollinated, so that it will grow true to seed.  Open-pollinated plants are nearly identical to the parent plant because it (the parent plant) was pollinated by wind, birds, or insects—not from a neighboring plant.  The big advantage of OP plants is that gardeners can save their own seed. If you grow an Heirloom variety you particularly enjoy, that does exceptionally well in your garden, it is nice to be able to save some seeds, plant the same variety next season and enjoy the same results.  The more you save the seeds and replant, the better adapted future plants will be to your growing conditions.  While Heirloom vegetables are grown for their superior flavor, they typically have a shorter shelf-life and may not be as disease resistant as hybrid varieties.

A Hybrid vegetable is created when plant breeders intentionally cross-pollinate two different varieties, with the intention of producing an offspring that contains the best traits of each of the parents.   Pollination is carefully controlled to ensure that the right plants are crossed to achieve the desired combination of characteristics, such as dependability, early maturity, bigger size, higher yield or better disease resistance.  Seed from hybridized plants tends to revert to the qualities of the parents, so saving the seed and replanting is not advisable. Hybrid seeds/plants should not be confused with genetically modified (GMO) seeds/plants, which have been genetically altered using molecular genetics techniques such as gene cloning and protein engineering. 

Organic is a certification that indicates that the food has been produced through U.S. Dept. of Agriculture approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.

With some minor exceptions, organic meat, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are not given antibiotics or growth hormones. While the term “natural” can be used on any product label without third party verification, a product must be certified by USDA if it is to be labeled as “organic.”

The emphasis is on farmers using renewable resources and mimicking natural ecosystems to conserve and maintain the soil and water without polluting the environment.  Some examples of organic farming practices include using compost, manure, and crop rotation to keep the soil healthy naturally. The healthy soil helps keep the plants resistant to disease and pests. Crops are usually grown according to the climate and organic farmers often grow a variety of crops instead of one. While organic farming doesn’t allow many dangerous chemicals to be used, certain pesticides derived from natural sources are allowed in producing organically grown food. Organic farming helps to prevent soil erosion and protects local wildlife, streams and watersheds instead of conventional farming which can harm local ecosystems with chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  For additional information, go to this USDA webpage.  What is Organic.pdf (usda.gov)

The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer cannot plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients. To meet the USDA organic regulations, farmers and processors must show they aren’t using GMOs and that they are protecting their products from contact with prohibited substances, such as GMOs, from farm to table.  

Non-GMO suggests that all ingredients were derived from plants, animals, or other organisms whose genetic material has not been artificially altered in a laboratory.  Meat, poultry, dairy and eggs with a Non-GMO claim are from animals that were not fed a diet containing genetically engineered crops.  Non-GMO, however, is NOT certified by the USDA.  As indicated above, all certified Organic foods are Non-GMO, however, all Non-GMO foods are not necessarily Organic.  For more details on recent USDA allowances and labeling regarding Non-GMO foods, click HERE. 

Food is complicated and highly regulated, but for good reason.  The more you know and understand, the better equipped you are to make decisions on what you grow in your garden and what you buy for you and your family to eat. 

Here are additional resources for more on this subject:

Heirloom Vegetables | Home & Garden Information Center (clemson.edu)
GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond | FDA

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!

 

 

PROBLEM SOLVING – INSECTS, FUNGUS and WEEDS

By Kathy Torres

So… Here we are in the “dog days” of summer when it’s hot and dry and hard to get motivated to get out in the yard that we were so devoted to in spring.  We just want to sit by the pool and sip on a nice, cold drink, right?  Unfortunately, it’s the time of year when disease, pests, and weeds begin to affect the beauty of the landscape, and we have to muster up the will to take care of a few problems.  For example:  Our gorgeous rose bushes were just attacked by japanese beetles (they visited in June); the foliage on the azaleas is being eaten; the crape myrtle has powdery mildew; and brown patch is beginning to rear its ugly head, along with nutsedge in the lawn.  Hopefully, you don’t have all of these issues, but it’s likely you’ve “been there, done that” with at least one of them.

The heat and humidity are culprits, for sure, and, when combined with overhead watering, can encourage fungus on shrubbery.  A drip system, which waters beneath the foliage, is best.   Other than proper watering, there are additional things you can do to minimize fungus problems.  Prune inner branching on dense shrubs to provide air and light (best in early spring), especially roses.  Remove any “sickly” foliage that has fallen to the ground to prevent the spread to other plants.  Look for plant varieties that are disease resistant. 

A lawn care program (Wingard’s has one! Click HERE) will go a long way to eliminate weeds in your grass, but a few persistent ones may pop up. Nutsedge and Chamberbitter are very hardy, aggressive weeds appearing in summer.  Of course, overhead watering is the only way to water the lawn, however, watering too much can bring on the fungus.  Typically, 1 inch of water per week is sufficient for most southern grasses.   

Warm weather invites a variety of insects to visit the garden, many of them beneficial, however, some control may be necessary to avoid damage to foliage and fruit.  You don’t want to harm the good insects, so make a practice of using organic products or apply pesticides in the early morning before bees are flying.

When faced with all of these challenges, it becomes necessary to take action, (1) to maintain the health of plants and lawn, (2) to protect fruits and vegetables so they can be harvested and (3) to preserve the beauty of the landscape.  Many organic and chemical products are available, but it’s important to choose the right one and apply it correctly, potentially more than once.  Be aware when choosing what to use on edibles.  Some products are safe for your vegetable garden and fruit trees, but NOT all of them, so be sure to read your labels.  Requirements relative to temperature are extremely important during the summer.  Don’t use oils when the temperature is above 85 degrees, and for those products that can be used in the heat, apply in early morning or evening.  ALWAYS read the label carefully and following instructions as indicated. 

It can be quite overwhelming finding your way through the Medicine Chest of products available to solve these problems.  CONTACT products are available and will have an immediate effect.  SYSTEMIC products are absorbed into the root system or the foliage and take a little longer, but are very effective, and can often be applied as a preventive method.  At times it may be necessary to use both a CONTACT and a SYSTEMIC product to eliminate the problem if it is severe.  We have developed a few CHEAT SHEETS to provide recommendations on product use in dealing with insects, fungus and weeds.   Click on the links below to access them.  As always, you can rely on staff at Wingard’s to answer any questions you may have, to help you through the problems and keep your landscape at its best. 

CLICK HERE for INSECTS

CLICK HERE for FUNGUS

CLICK HERE for LAWN PROBLEMS

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s

Growing Blueberries

By Kathy Torres

Blueberries are often labeled a “superfood” because they are loaded with vitamins and minerals.  The deep blue color comes from anthocyanin, an antioxidant that can help protect the body from heart disease and cancer, reduce inflammation and increase immune function.  Research also suggests the compounds found in blueberries may boost brain health, lower blood sugar levels, and improve insulin sensitivity.  A half cup of blueberries a day just might be what the doctor ordered!  Wouldn’t it be great to rely on your own backyard blueberry bushes to provide them?  Did I mention they are also low in calories?

There are four types of blueberry plants: Northern Highbush, Southern Highbush, Rabbiteye, and Lowbush.  Rabbiteye varieties are hardiest in the south, producing sweet fruit with high yields of large berries, and are not problematic with regard to diseases and pests.  Various cultivars are available, including Brightwell, Climax, Delite, Pink Lemonade, Powderblue, Premiere, and Tift Blue.  Pink Lemonade is the smallest, with a maximum height of 4.5 ft.  Brightwell and Delite can reach 10 ft. tall, and the others will mature at about 6.5 ft.

Rabbiteye blueberry bushes can be grown successfully in a sunny spot and they prefer acidic soil.   It’s a good idea to test the soil to determine the pH, which should be between 4.0 to 5.3.  This is lower than many plants will tolerate, even camellias and azaleas.  If soil test results show your soil pH is over 5.5, you may need to apply aluminum sulfate or sulfur to the soil.  Stop by one of our Wingard’s checkout stations and we can provide a soil sample bag and process the paperwork and payment to Clemson Extension for you.  Check out this Clemson Extension fact sheet for more information on changing soil pH.  FACT SHEET 

Blueberries grow best in well-drained soil that has plenty of organic matter.  We recommend Stout Ollie, a mixture of three different organic composts. If you have heavy clay soil or poor drainage, amend the soil by mixing in soil conditioner (finely ground pine bark).  Mounding the soil 6”-12” high and 2’-3’ wide is another way to improve drainage in clay soil.  Keep plants adequately watered, especially during the first few years while they become established.  Blueberry bushes can retract water from berries during fruit production, so it is essential for the plant to receive adequate water through the roots in order to produce plump, juicy berries.  Next year’s buds are set in late summer and early fall, another reason they must receive adequate moisture.  Add mulch to help retain moisture and reduce weeds.

Although fall is the absolute best time to plant, inventory in garden centers is plentiful in the spring and the chances of finding varieties you want are better.  As long as you are diligent about watering in the heat of summer, you will be OK.   Be sure to plant at least two different varieties for cross-pollination to occur.  This will bring you the best yield of berries.

It will be painful for you, but cut off the blooms that appear in the first spring.  Not producing fruit will put the plant’s energy into root and stem growth, which will make it bigger and healthier the next spring.  Rabbiteye blueberry bushes, during the first five years, require very little pruning.  During dormancy (Dec-Mar), remove lower, twiggy growth, dead shoots and spindly growth.  Cut back excessively long shoots to stimulate lateral branching and to thicken the shoots.

Mature plants require more dramatic pruning to maintain health and ensure maximum yield.  Generally, remove all but seven canes, eliminating the oldest or largest canes.  Selective cuts should be made to open up the center of the plant to allow light penetration and discourage disease.  Pruning of older plants should take place immediately after harvest.  

Do not fertilize blueberry bushes when first planted.  Wait until the following spring.  From that point, fertilizer should be applied twice a year.  Apply Holly-tone when spring growth begins and again in June.  Do not use nitrate forms of fertilizer for blueberries as this will cause root damage.

We often have a late freeze or two in spring that can harm blooms or young fruit, so pay attention to the freeze warnings and cover the plant with an old sheet.  Anchor it down if it’s windy. 

Your first harvest will be in late May or early June.  Wait until the berries are plump and deep blue.  Let them sit out a few days after you pick and they will become sweeter.  You will harvest several times as the berries ripen.  Be prepared to lose a few to the birds that visit your yard, however, netting is available to cover the plant and discourage the birds, if you’d rather not share.

One of the most enjoyable treats of early summer is fresh picked blueberries.  A nutritious snack to eat just as they are, or mixed into delicious pies, cakes, and muffins.  Click on this link for one of my favorite Blueberry Muffin recipes.  To Die For Blueberry Muffins Recipe | Allrecipes  Try them and it’s highly likely you’ll want to plant your own blueberry garden!

Getting Started Growing Fruit

by Kathy Torres

Peaches have been grown in South Carolina since the 1860s and are designated as the official State Fruit.   SC peach farmers grow over thirty varieties, ranking second in the United States (behind California) in production.  Other than the occasional late frost and freeze that may occur, a peach tree is a good bet for your landscape, and there is nothing better than a ripe, juicy peach on a hot summer day.  In addition to peach trees, many other fruiting plants and trees will flourish here in the midlands.  You can enjoy beautiful, often fragrant, spring blooms, and fresh, delicious fruit from your own yard. Dwarf varieties even make it possible to harvest from a container on your patio!

There are a few basics you should be aware of if you are considering fruiting plants and trees…

POLLINATION:  Most strawberry, raspberry, grape, blackberry, peach, nectarine, sour cherry and apricot varieties are self-fruitful, which means they do not need a pollinator.   Generally, blueberries, pears, apples, plums and sweet cherries must have a different variety planted nearby to cross-pollinate and ensure a good harvest.  Most citrus are self-pollinating (except tangerines). For more pollination information, check out the charts provided HERE.

CHILL HOURS are the minimum hours below 45 degrees F that a plant is exposed to during dormancy. Reaching the needed chill hours sets off the plant’s internal alarm clock to wake up in the spring instead of summer or fall, so that it can take advantage of the warm weather to blossom, set fruit, and finish the seed cycle before the coming of another winter’s nap. A fruit tree may grow well where winters are mild, but if there are not enough chill hours over the course of winter, the tree will not fruit properly. Some fruit trees need as few as 100 chill hours, others need as many as 1,000 chill hours or more. Average chill hours for Lexington are 370-490 according to AgroClimate.org.

COMMON PROBLEMS:

  • Peach scab is a fungus that attacks twigs, leaves and fruit of peaches, nectarines and apricots. Proper pruning that allows good air flow into the tree helps to prevent and manage the disease. The second step is application of fungicide sprays, from the time petals fall until about a month before harvest.
  • Fire Blight is a bacterial disease that attacks apple, crabapple and pear trees. It’s best known for making leaves look like they’ve been burned. Treatment includes planting a resistant variety, avoiding high nitrogen fertilizers, and gathering and destroying fallen fruit, leaves and twigs. Copper and antibiotic sprays can also help control the disease.
  • Suckers are stems that grow from the root system and steal nutrients from the main stems and branches. To remove suckers, dig down to find the origin, and cut it cleanly. Clip a sucker at soil level, and next year two or more stems will appear at that same location.
  • Codling Moth, Aphids, Borers are three common pests that create problems for fruit trees. Treatment is necessary immediately to minimize the damage to tree and fruit.

The absolute best way to avoid issues with disease and pests is a preventive plan.  Ask for Wingard’s Fruit Tree Care plan on your next visit and get ahead of potential problems. 

TRAINING and PRUNING: Untrained and unpruned trees become entangled masses of shoots and branches that produce little or no fruit and harbor insects and diseases. Light pruning can be done throughout the growing season to remove broken, injured or diseased branches and to improve air circulation to control diseases. Major removal of twigs and branches should be done during the dormant season, before active growth begins in the spring.  Clemson has a great Factsheet on training and pruning apple and pear trees HERE.   

FERTILIZING: Spring is the best time for fertilizing fruit trees because spring is when trees need plenty of energy to push out new leaves and nurture baby fruit. Feed the trees before they break from dormancy, during bud-break, or during the growing season.  If it’s July or August already – you’re too late – wait for next spring.  It’s always a good idea to test the soil every 2 or 3 years to ensure the pH is right.

This blog is entitled Getting Started Growing Fruit because we have “touched” on some basics. There is really a lot to learn to be successful growing fruit, so continue to research and dive in to the subject.  Check out Wingard’s blog on Growing Citrus in South Carolina HERE and these Clemson fact sheets that may be of interest:

Peach Diseases | Home & Garden Information Center (clemson.edu)

Fig | Home & Garden Information Center (clemson.edu)

Blueberry | Home & Garden Information Center (clemson.edu)

Pomegranate | Home & Garden Information Center (clemson.edu)

Growing Strawberries | Home & Garden Information Center (clemson.edu)

Muscadine Grape | Home & Garden Information Center (clemson.edu)

Of course, the first order of business is to decide which fruits you love to eat and take it from there!

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!

Aquatic Plants

by Kathy Torres

The sights and sounds of water provide a relaxing, soothing atmosphere in the garden.  An extra reward is the attraction of pollinators, frogs, butterflies, and other beneficial wildlife.  As water gardens and ponds have gained popularity, so has interest in plant life to enhance the natural appearance of these landscape additions.  There are many aquatic plants for use in natural, as well as man made water features that, in addition to just being beautiful, add oxygen, help to control algae and provide a home or hiding place for wildlife. 

Different aquatic plants require different depths of water, so it is important to do a little research and choose plants that will best suit your particular conditions.  Some aquatic varieties just like to have wet feet, as in a bog situation. Other plants need to be fully submerged, and some float on the surface with their roots hanging in water.  You can achieve the proper level for one or multiple plants by placing bricks, cinder blocks, etc. under the pots. 

Specialty pots, soil, gravel, and fertilizers are available for aquatic plants.  Soil should be loamy and heavy so that it won’t float away when the pot is placed in water.  Potting mix is not suitable, as it will float out of the pot and muck up the water.  Aquatic or pea gravel can be added on top of the soil to hold it in place.  Some water gardeners also plant completely in gravel.  It’s good to experiment to see what works best for you. It may be appropriate to plant bare root directly into the pond or water feature, using rocks to hold the plant in place.  Just be sure to remove all the dirt from the roots before it goes in the water. 

An aquatic garden will require some tending, as far as plant growth is concerned.  Because many water plants are bulbs that will multiply, it will likely be necessary to divide them as they outgrow their space.  Avoid cultivars that are invasive.  Go to https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/aquatic-shoreline-plant-selection/ for a listing of nuisance (and illegal) water plants in South Carolina. 

With any plant, it is key to be aware of the mature size as you make plans to include it in any part of the landscape to make the most of your space and avoid overcrowding.  Plant a variety of heights, leaf shapes, and blooming specimens to give dimension and interest to your water garden. Also key, is the sunlight requirement. Many aquatic plants like full sun to part shade, but make sure before you put them in place.  Of course, one really great benefit in a water garden is the ability you have to move plants around!  Make sure taller plants don’t block sunlight to smaller ones.  Know which plants are vulnerable to colder temperatures in the winter months; you may need to take them out and keep them in a warmer place.

Consider the following categories and examples when making your selection of aquatic plants:

BOG &  MARGINAL AQUATIC PLANTS – These specimens bridge the gap between water and dry land.  Bog plants enjoy moist soil around the edge of ponds, with water just covering or slightly below the soil.  Marginal aquatic plants, the most abundant of water plants, thrive in the shallow waters at the inside edge with an average water depth up to 6 inches over the crown.

Saururus cernuus AKA Lizard’s Tail – Deep green heart shaped leaves.  Gracefully arching spikes of tiny white flowers 4-6 in. shaped like a lizard’s tail.  Will flower even in dense shade. The plant grows to height of 3-4 feet. Plant in a medium pot with water from 1-6 in. over crown of plant.  

Lobelia fulgens ‘Queen Victoria’ AKA Cardinal Flower provides interest all season with rich burgundy foliage.  Upright stalks can grow to heights of 2-3 ft.  Striking red flowers in late summer.  May be planted in 1-3 inches of water. Grow in sun to part shade.

Juncus effuses ‘Spiralis,’ commonly known as Corkscrew Rush has attractive corkscrew stems which are both upright and prostrate, cylindrical, green, and smooth.  They grow in 1-6 inches of water over the crown into a clump 12-18 inches tall and wide with late summer yellowish-green flowers.  Full sun is best but some shade can be tolerated. 

Juncus effusus / Soft Rush – Soft, grass like stems grow in clumps that rarely intrude upon other plants.  Each stem bears a cluster of very small, greenish brown, scaly flowers that bloom in July through September from a point on the stalk near the top.  Grows to a height up to 1 ft. tall.

DEEP WATER PLANTS – These water plants flourish in the deeper recesses of the pond. With the crown fully submerged beneath water, many (such as Water Lilies) produce foliage on long stems that float at the water’s surface.

Water Lilies are a group of plants containing about 70 known species. They are either tropical or hardy and grow in water 3 inches to 2 feet deep. Larger plants need larger water gardens or ponds. They prefer non-moving water without fountains or currents. Most prefer full sun but some will tolerate shade. The flowers are showy and usually fragrant with showy lily pads for leaves.

Nymphaea ‘Georgia Peach’ is a hardy, free-flowering, showy water lily with a long bloom season. Blooms stand 3-4 inches above the water surface. It is very adaptable to different growing situations. Use in medium to large water gardens.

Nymphaea Pink ‘Sensation’ is considered one of the best hardy pink water lilies. Blooms are held above the waterline, stay open later in the day, are free-flowering and have a slight fragrance. Use in any size water garden.

Nymphaea Albatros has beautiful, star-shaped, snow white flowers. A free flowering hardy white water lily, it will perform well in full sun or partial shade. The new foliage is deep burgundy and turns a deep olive green as it matures. Flowers stay open later in the day.

Thalia Dealbata AKA Hardy Water CannaPurple flowers on top of tall, graceful stems.  Large blue-green leaves.  Will grow to heights of 4-6 feet.  Do not allow crown of plant to freeze during winter. Plant in a medium pot with water from 1-2 ft. over crown of plant.  

SUBMERGED OXYGENATORS will create a healthy pond with well oxygenated water, essential for fish and wildlife to flourish. Many submerged aquatic plants are sold as bunches of stems that can be weighted or planted into pots to anchor them at the bottom of the pods.

Vallisneria americana AKA Water Celery is an evergreen perennial with clusters of ribbon-like leaves, about 1 inch wide that can grow up to 3 ft. long, producing single white flowers that grow to the water surface. After pollination, the flower stalks curl into spirals and pull the flowers underwater, where they form capsules containing many tiny seeds.  Very fast grower, able to reach full height in 2 months.  Performs best in full sun to light shade in water 12-48 inches deep.

Come in and check out the inventory of aquatic plants and supplies at Wingard’s.  We’re showing them off in a brand new display! 

There’s always something blooming at Wingard’s!

Top Five Plants for Beginner Vegetable Gardeners

by Kathy Torres

April is the official start time for planting many summer vegetable plants in the midlands of South Carolina, even though we may have to cover and protect tender new plants when a late frost or freeze occurs.  For first-time vegetable gardeners, it’s a good idea to start with those veggies that are EASIEST and give a BOUNTIFUL HARVEST.  It is so easy to go crazy and purchase an enormous selection of plants with a vision of a regular farmer’s market flowing from your garden, but, our recommendation is that you start slow and easy to afford yourself the best chance of success.  Then, next year, you can go crazy!

So…we came up with a short list of five, along with recommended cultivars, that are great for starter vegetable gardeners:

  1. SNAP BEANS:  Rapid growing, early maturing and productive, bush and pole (vine) form snap beans are a popular choice for the home garden.
     
    Blue Lake
    274 (bush) –
    A string-less, bush variety, there is no need for staking.  The beans are long and straight, with superior flavor, color and texture.  They can produce large yields within a few weeks, leaving time for a second crop, and are typically low maintenance (resistant to bean mosaic virus). To harvest beans, break off the stem above the cap. Quality is best if beans are harvested in early morning hours. Bush Blue Lake is an heirloom variety and has been around since the early 1900s.  

    Kentucky Wonder (pole) – Because they grow upward, pole beans are a great space saver in the garden. A sturdy trellis is required for support, at least 6-8 feet tall. Kentucky Wonder is a green pole bean with seven to nine inch long, fleshy pods that can be slightly stringy. They are curved with seeds filling to the tip and edge but not crowded, very reliable and rust resistant. Harvest beans every three to five days once they start producing, removing all bean pods when they are plump and you can see the beans in the pods. (For less stringy beans, harvest before they mature).  Also an heirloom variety, Kentucky Wonder was first sold commercially in 1877.

  2. TOMATOES:  Hundreds of tomato cultivars are available, so make it easy on yourself and start with these, which are all fairly disease resistant. Staking, caging, and trellising are good ways to keep the plants and fruit up and off the ground, providing easier access for picking and spraying, and allows airflow to prevent disease.  Pinch off suckers growing between the main stalk and branches.
     
    Determinate
     tomato plants grow to a certain size, set fruit, and then decline. Most early-ripening tomato cultivars are determinate and won’t produce tomatoes throughout a South Carolina summer. Indeterminate tomato plants continue to grow and produce for an extended season. Fruit production may continue until the first frost.     

    Better Boy is indeterminate and one of the most popular tomatoes grown in the US. It’s actually in the Guinness Book of World Records for the amount of fruit produced from a single plant. Superior flavor, large size, disease resistance, and high yields make this cultivar one of the easiest slicing tomatoes to grow.  Not suitable for containers, Better Boy must be caged or staked.

    Better Bush is a semi-determinate tomato plant growing to 4 ft. This is a great choice that bears sizeable fruits on a very compact plant that works well in containers and small gardens. Strong, bushy plants produce tasty, medium-sized tomatoes great for sandwiches and slicing. The heavy foliage of this hybrid helps protect tomatoes from sunburn. 

    Sweet 100’s are vining cherry tomatoes and do best growing on a trellis. Early maturing, these sweet gems are great for snacking (right off the vine) and salads, and will produce large clusters of tomatoes all summer long up until frost.  What do you think…indeterminate?  Yep!

    TIP:  Add Stout Ollie compost and Calcium Nitrate to the soil when planting tomatoes to enrich the soil and reduce the risk of Blossom End Rot, a nasty disease that ruins the fruit.  Also, be sure to water consistently, not allowing the soil to totally dry out between waterings.

  3. CUCUMBERS:   Cucumber plants grow in two forms: vining and bush.  Vines need a trellis to keep them off the ground, and produce more fruit the more you harvest. To remove the fruit, use a knife or clippers, cutting the stem above the fruit. Pulling them may damage the vine.  Don’t let the cucumbers get oversized or yellow on the end or they will be bitter.
     
    Burpless Bush Hybrid
    is excellent in small gardens and containers.  A space-saving form with short vines growing about 2 ft. long.  Fruit is smooth-skinned, dark green, straight and approximately 10-12 inches long. Enjoy high yields, great for pickling or slicing.  

    Boston Pickling is a popular American heirloom cucumber first marketed in 1877 by the pioneering Detroit-based seed company, D.M. Ferry & Co. A favorite of gardeners for high yields of short, straight “cukes” with thin, green skin. Vines bear continuously and should be trellised.  Flesh is crisp and very receptive to pickling spices. May be harvested at sizes from 3 to 7 inches, depending on your pickling needs. Plants resist scab and are tolerant to cucumber mosaic.

  4. YELLOW SUMMER SQUASH are harvested when immature, while the rind is still tender and edible.
     
    Crookneck squash
    are named for the slight curves in their narrow necks. These fast-growing plants can spread 3 to 4 feet across with leaves that are 1 to 2 feet wide, so leave plenty of space for them to spread. Their yellow fruits, which form underneath the leaves, can have smooth or bumpy skins.  Because they’re bushy plants, crookneck squash don’t have to be staked and can grow in large containers or in the ground. Use a knife or garden shears to cut the fruits off the plant when they are 5 to 6 inches long.  If you harvest fruits regularly, the plants will bear until frost. 

    Straightneck squash have a tapered, straight neck with creamy yellow, mildly sweet, tender fruit of excellent quality early in the season. This squash grows on vined plants that thrive in mild weather. The straight shape makes it perfect to slice into lengths for grilling.

  5. BELL PEPPERS are a warm-weather fruit, appreciated for cooking and eating raw. Crunchy, sweet bell pepper plants lack capsaicin, the active component in hot peppers that gives them their heat.  The fruits can be harvested when they are green, to increase the yields.  Alternatively, the fruits can be allowed to ripen to red, leaving them time to develop flavor with smaller yields.  Provide support for the limbs, to hold the weight of the peppers by caging or staking.
     
    Big Bertha
    is the largest elongated bell pepper available! Thick-walled, 7-inch long fruit, plants are disease resistant and ideal for giant stuffed peppers.

ALL OF THE ABOVE need the following to flourish and produce high yields:

  • Good, fertile, well-drained soil.  Add compost when preparing the soil and fertilize regularly after planting.
  • Sun, a minimum of 6 hours, but all day is even better.
  • Regular, consistent watering, sometimes twice a day when temperatures get above 80 degrees.  Avoid overhead irrigation; use soaker hose to decrease chances of fungus.
  • Insect and disease control.  Be on the lookout for leaves/fruit with spots or holes and contact Wingard’s to get advice on the best solution. There are many products available for edibles.

For more information on vegetable gardening, visit our Blog:  “Vegetable Gardening”

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!

 

To Prune or Not to Prune… Hydrangeas

Header_Hydrnageas-Pruning As we survey our landscape in anticipation of the upcoming spring season, and notice that the weathered blooms remain on our hydrangeas, the question arises… Was I supposed to cut those off in the fall?  Before you grab your pruning shears, there are a few things you need to know about caring for this beautiful southern shrub.  There is not one rule for all hydrangeas, and if you prune at the wrong time, you will ruin your chance to enjoy the gorgeous blooms.

Within the scientific plant family Hydrangeaceae, common name Hydrangea, are many species and within each species, many cultivars/varieties exist.  Each species has its own characteristics and requirements for pruning.  It sounds quite complicated, but it’s simply related to whether the blooms appear on old wood, new wood, or old AND new wood.  In the species available to our region of the world, this factor varies.  The plant tag may provide this information when you buy; if not, identify the botanical name to determine the group in which the hydrangea belongs, and this will help to answer the pruning question. 

Here is a brief description of the species of hydrangeas (indicated by the second word in the botanical name) that are available in our region:

macrophyllaHydrangea macrophylla Bigleaf or French Hydrangeas bloom in mophead or lace cap form.  Bloom color is determined by the soil pH (relative to aluminum in the soil) and is typically blue or pink, however, there are some cultivars with white blooms.  A few popular cultivars are Endless Summer, Big Daddy, Mini Penny, Twist-n-Shout, and Fuji Waterfall.  Buds are set on old wood from last year’s growth and should be pruned soon after flowering.  Waiting until the following spring to prune or dead head will eliminate the new buds. The EXCEPTION to this rule is the Endless Summer® Collection.  These macrophyllas bloom from old and new wood. The first blooms develop from old wood and should be pruned after flowering.  New stems will produce another round of buds and blooms and should be pruned after flowering.  Endless Summer® hydrangeas will repeat bloom throughout the summer.

Oakleaf HydrangeaHydrangea quercifoliaOakleaf Hydrangeas are native and produce conical white blooms next to large leaves similar to those of an Oak tree.  The foliage becomes the star of the show in fall as it morphs from green to bronze, orange and red as temperatures cool down.  Flowers develop on old wood from last year’s growth and should be pruned or deadheaded soon after flowering to allow time to develop flower buds for the following year.

Climbing-hydrangea Hydrangea anomala Climbing hydrangea is a woody vine that produces a multitude of white lacecap blooms in early to midsummer. The vine establishes itself slowly, but once the roots are established, the vines can climb quickly. Climbing hydrangea requires only minimal pruning to keep the vines under control and remove dead wood. Buds are set on old wood.   Pruning or dead heading can be done after blooming occurs.

Hydrangea-paniculata Hydrangea paniculata – While most hydrangeas prefer morning sun and afternoon shade, these can hold their own in full sun.  Limelight, Little Lime, Little Lamb, Quick Fire and Pinky Winky boast striking cone-shaped blooms.  Limelight is known for long-lasting blooms changing from chartreuse in summer to shades of rose in fall.  Panicle hydrangeas develop flowers on new wood during the growing season.  Prune while dormant in late winter or early spring before new growth appears. 

Hydrangea-arborescens Hydrangea arborescensCommonly known as Smooth or Wild Hydrangea, arborescens are loosely and widely branched, often with large, heavy, round blooms.  Annabelle is a noteworthy cultivar, with clusters of white blooms up to 12 inches wide. Collections of arborescens offering white, cream and pink blooms include Incrediball and Invincibelle. Like paniculata, this hydrangea group sets buds on new wood and can also be pruned in late winter or early spring before new growth appears.  

To Simplify:

If buds are set on old wood, prune or dead head soon after blooming to allow time for next year’s buds to set.

If buds are set on new wood, prune or dead head in late winter or early spring before new growth appears

If buds are set on old and new wood, prune after first blooming, then after repeat blooms occur.

Whenever the appropriate time for pruning, remove up to a third of the total growth of the plant to improve shape and density, otherwise, just dead head the blooms.  

While this may all seem a bit complicated, knowing when to prune your hydrangea is simply knowing if the blooms are set on old wood, new wood, or both.  An easy way to determine the answer to that question is knowing the botanical name.  Let’s face it, nature is complex and we (gardeners) are drawn to plants because of it.  Enjoying the variety of hydrangeas available for the landscape makes it well worth the challenge of learning a little about them, don’t you think?

The varieties of hydrangeas mentioned above are just a sampling.  Spring is the very best time to find a full inventory of hydrangeas at Wingard’s.  Come in soon!

To learn more about hydrangeas, go to https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/hydrangea/

There’s always something blooming at Wingard’s!

Northern Cardinal – The Infamous Red Bird

Chances are you have probably received a Christmas card illustrating a snowy white landscape as the backdrop for a barren tree or fence post holding a bright red cardinal.   The Northern Cardinal, AKA Red Bird, is common throughout the eastern United States from Maine to Florida, continuing north into Canada, and west to southern Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and the eastern half of Mexico. It’s hard to take your eyes off the male Northern Cardinal, with its brilliant red feathers, black mask, and orange/red beak.  The female is a buff golden-tan with a red tinge to the wings and tail, with a smaller, less distinct mask.  Both genders have a prominent head crest that can be raised and lowered to indicate the bird’s mood. 

When spring arrives, one of the first songbirds noticed is the Northern Cardinal. Males, in particular, may sing throughout the year, though the peak of singing is in spring and early summer. Males often sing to scare away the competition when courting.  Few female North American songbirds sing, but the female Northern Cardinal does, and often while sitting on the nest. This may give the male information about when to bring food to the nest. A mated pair shares song phrases, but the female may sing a longer and slightly more complex song than the male. The cardinal repertoire includes sounds like what cheer, what cheer, what cheer or purty, purty, purty.  For a sampling, click HERE.

Cardinal couples typically mate for life and produce up to 3 clutches of eggs in a season.  These birds bond over a feeding courtship ritual in which the female bird mimics the behavior of a nestling and the male bird offers her seeds or berries in a kiss-like gesture.  The male becomes aggressive in his protection of his territory and is known to engage in a battle with his own reflection.  If you ever see a cardinal hitting a window over and over, that’s what is happening.  The female cardinal builds the nest, usually 3-10 feet above the ground in a dense tree or shrub. While the female tends the nest, the male cares for her by bringing food and guarding against predators.  Both parents tend to the cardinal chicks, and even after the chicks have matured, they stay together as a family.

When given the opportunity, cardinals will feed on a wide variety of insects, however 90% of their food intake is sourced from weed seeds, fruits, grains and berries.  Many of the foods contain carotenoids, the source of phytonutrients like beta-carotene and lutein.  Cardinals have an enzyme that converts yellow carotenoids to red before depositing them in the feathers.  Some cardinals have a defect that fails to convert the carotenoids, causing the birds to have yellow feathers instead of red.  Cardinals will forage while hopping on the ground or in low bushes, and sometimes higher in trees.  They readily come to bird feeders, where they favor sunflower and safflower seeds. Because they do not migrate, it is likely your cardinal visitors will return to the same feeders.

An interesting fact about the Northern Cardinal….it is the State Bird in 7 states in the US.  Those states are: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Northern Cardinals are also associated with a great deal of folklore, legends, and spiritual beliefs in many different cultures. It is common folklore that a visit from a cardinal represents a sign from a loved one who has passed.  Birds have often symbolized heavenly visitors, messengers to the gods, or even the gods themselves in feathered form. This belief has been part of ancient Egyptian, Celtic, Maori, Irish, and Hindu spiritualism, as well as the lore and legends of many Native American tribes.  Cardinals are often associated with romance, and it is believed that if you are single and see a cardinal, romance is in your near future. At the same time, if you are in a relationship and a cardinal crosses your path, it is said to be a reminder to honor your partner and remember the romance that brought you together. 

If you haven’t been charmed by the Northern Cardinal or another of the birding community in your yard, you’re missing out.  Get acquainted by installing a feeder somewhere in a spot that you can view from your porch, deck, or window.  You’ll be in awe when you see that male cardinal sitting on the bare tree branch or the fence post…so beautiful, with or without the snow!

Visit Wings & Things, the Birding Department in the Wingard’s Produce Market, select a feeder and grab a bag of Cole’s Birdseed.  While Cardinals will eat a variety of seeds, safflower is one of their favorites.  Safflower is also a lifesaver for those having trouble with squirrels or large “nuisance” birds. Since most squirrels and blackbirds don’t like the bitter taste, it is an easy way to send a message to any undesirable visitors. 

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!

Keep Holiday Plants Looking Their Best

Poinsettias, Christmas Cactus, Amaryllis, Paper Whites and Cyclamen add a special touch to your home during the holidays, however, keeping them looking Merry and Bright can be challenging. Here are a few tips:

#1 The most common problem occurs with overwatering. Avoid drenching the soil when you water and let the soil dry out between waterings.

#2 Poor drainage will cause the roots to rot. Make sure the pot has drainage holes and if the plant sits in a foil sleeve, remove it when you water and allow it to drain adequately.

#3 Keep plants near a window that receives morning sun, making sure the leaves/petals don’t touch the windowpane. The cooler temperature from outside can penetrate and shock the plant causing leaves to drop.

#4 Maintaining a constant temperature between 65 and 75 degrees is ideal. Avoid placing plants in drafty areas near doorways, or near fireplaces or heat vents.

#5 Applying a fertilizer on a regular schedule will encourage root health, growth and blooming.

Most holiday plants are exactly that… holiday plants, and when the fraser fir comes down, they typically go out the door along with it. Christmas Cactus, however, can thrive inside year round, and with proper care, can last for years. Poinsettias, on the other hand, are more difficult in the long term. If you’re interested in more information on keeping Poinsettias after the holidays, go to Poinsettia | Home & Garden Information Center (clemson.edu).

There’s Always Something Blooming at Wingard’s!