Question: Can I plant my Easter lily outdoors?
Answer: After your Easter lily finishes blooming, you may plant it in your garden. With a little luck you will get several years of blooms. Do not plop the lily down in red clay. Good drainage is a must. Prepare the soil by adding lots of organic matter and perhaps working in some pea gravel as well. Plant it in a sunny to partially shaded area. Mulch with a two-inch layer of compost, shredded leaves or pine bark. This helps conserve moisture, suppress weeds and keep the soil cool.
Your lily will not bloom at Easter, however. Grown outdoors, it usually blooms in June. Perhaps next year it will be your Father’s Day lily!
Q: I was visiting Savannah and noticed a green plant growing along with the Spanish moss on the branches of the live oaks in one of the city squares. At first I thought it was mistletoe, but it was smaller and had leaves that looked like a fern. Can you tell me what it is? I am from Milwaukee and had never seen anything like it.
A: It sounds like the resurrection fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides, formerly Polypodium polypodioides). This fascinating fern is an epiphyte. It gets its nutrients from the air, water and whatever collects on the bark of the trees on which it grows. The resurrection fern usually lives on the limbs and trunks of large trees, with live oaks being a favorite. It is often found in the company of true mosses and other epiphytic plants such as Spanish moss and green-fly orchid. Sometimes it grows on rocks and dead logs.
The resurrection fern gets its name because it survives dry periods by going dormant. Its fronds curl up and appear dead. When rain comes it "resurrects;" its dried fronds become green and lush again.
Resurrection fern is primarily a warm-climate species. However, its native range does extend into southern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and New York. A similar fern is Polypodium virginianum, known as the rock polypody or rockcap fern. It grows primarily on rocks but occasionally on exposed tree roots and in thin soils. Its range extends from northern Georgia and Alabama to Canada and even Greenland.
Do not confuse our native resurrection fern with the resurrection plant (Selaginella lepidophylla). It is also called false rose of Jericho. It curls up in a ball when dry and is sold as a novelty. Unfortunately, it is sometimes sold under the name “resurrection fern.”
Q: I love pussy willows. Can we grow them in Georgia?
A: We can grow them here, but most don’t thrive as well as they do farther north. They tend to have difficulties dealing with the heat, insects and diseases in our area. However, lots of plants face problems, and if you love pussy willows, give them a try. Find them a moist to wet and sunny to partially shaded spot, if possible. Don’t make them the main feature of your landscape design since they can be short-lived and their flowers, though attractive and delightfully touchable, do not last for a long time.
Q: I just heard a news story that many dogs and cats are overweight, but the owner doesn’t realize it. Is this true? I have a big breed of dog, and I think he is just naturally large.
A: The eighth annual survey conducted by Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 58 percent of cats and 53 percent of dogs in the U.S. were overweight in 2014. The study also found a significant “fat pet gap,” in which 90 percent of owners of overweight cats and 95 percent of owners of overweight dogs incorrectly identified their pet as a normal weight.
As in humans, the main causes for obesity in pets are overeating and lack of exercise. Contact your veterinarian to see if your pet is overweight and what you need to do to get it back to the desired weight. The course of action may involve training you and your family to refrain from feeding snacks, people food or too many treats. It could also include walking your dog or exercising with it a few more minutes every day, activities that will probably benefit both dog and owner, physically and emotionally. There are also activities and things like scratching posts, cat trees and laser pointers that may get your cat moving.
Pet owners need to understand an overweight dog or cat is not a healthy pet. Obesity can lead to numerous diseases and health issues. Preventing obesity will help your pet lead a longer, happier life.
For more information, visit www.petobesityprevention.org.
Q: Are there any aloes that are winter hardy in Georgia?
A: Most aloes cannot survive our low temperatures and our wet conditions during winter. However, there are a few species that are worth trying outdoors, especially in south and coastal Georgia. The key with all of them is locating them in spots protected from blasts of cold winds and providing excellent drainage. As a general rule, they cannot tolerate winter wetness.
Some species can survive into the 20s or even into the teens if conditions are right. You may consider growing them in pots and moving them indoors when we have bouts of low temperatures, especially for extended periods. There is a big difference between surviving 15 degrees F for one hour with the temperatures quickly rising back to above freezing versus surviving temperatures well below freezing for a day or more.
South and coastal Georgia gardeners will have more success than those in central or north Georgia, and gardeners in the mountains should probably think of aloes only as houseplants.
Here are a few of the hardier species you may want to investigate and experiment with: spiral aloe (Aloe polyphylla), candelabra aloe or tree aloe (Aloe arborescens), guinea-fowl aloe or lace aloe (Aloe aristata), hardy aloe (Aloe striatula), Boyle’s grass aloe (Aloe boylei), hedgehog aloe (Aloe humilis), Cooper’s grass aloe (Aloe cooperi), fence aloe (Aloe tenuior), soap aloe (Aloe maculata, synonym Aloe saponaria), dwarf soap aloe (Aloe grandidentata) and coral aloe (Aloe striata). All of these are not equally cold hardy or readily available. If you enjoy succulents, pushing the hardiness envelope or trying something different, give one or more of these a try.
We have grown Aloe maculata for more than 10 years in Atlanta in a terra-cotta pot, setting it inside only when temperatures dip into the low 20s. It is sometimes sold as Aloe saponaria and is one of the most commonly available aloes other than Aloe vera.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for growing thyme? Mine almost always rots. Are there any varieties that are best for Georgia?
A: Thyme likes well-drained soil, full sun and good air circulation. Clay soils and humid conditions can be detrimental to it. Improve the drainage where you plant thyme by creating a raised area by mixing in sand and gravel or pebbles with the existing soil. Try growing it in a small, raised bed constructed of concrete cinder blocks; the raised bed will improve drainage, and thyme likes the lime that leaches out of the blocks. Concrete containers, terra cotta pots and strawberry jars are another option.
There are many varieties of thyme. They vary in growth habit, leaf color, flower color, flavor and fragrance. As a general rule, upright-growing thymes seem to deal with our conditions better than creeping ones that cling to the ground. Also, smooth-leaved varieties tend to hold up better to our humidity than wooly ones. However, if you see one you like, give it a try by providing it with the best conditions possible.
Q: My peace lily died. It was growing in a vase with a betta fish. Can I replace it with one from a garden center?
A: We do not recommend this. The peace lily may be treated with an insecticide or other pesticide that will harm or kill the fish. Also, the roots of peace lilies grown in soil are not acclimated to water culture. If you need a new plant, purchase it from a fish supply store or pet store.
The betta-fish-and-peace-lily-in-a-vase was a fad a few years ago. However, this set-up is not the best way to grow either the betta fish or the peace lily. Peace lilies are not true aquatic plants, and those grown this way do not live as long as those conventionally grown. Some of the vases we have seen have constricted necks that do not allow the betta fish to come to the surface. Betta fish take oxygen from the water but also need to visit the surface for oxygen. Besides being unattractive, vases filled with roots restrict the ability of the fish to swim. Consider getting a larger bowl or aquarium that will provide more room and allow your fish to have a healthier, longer life. A healthy betta fish with long fins swimming freely among attractive underwater plants is more pleasant and enjoyable to watch than one constrained in a vase amid roots.
Q: A sprawling weed is taking over my garden. It has square stems, bright green leaves that whorl around the stems, small white flowers and is covered with tiny Velcro-like hooks that seem to grab at my pants. What is it?
A: It sounds like Galium aparine, commonly known as catchweed bedstraw, stickywilly, cleavers and by other names. It is an annual weed that sprouts in late winter and early spring. It is easy to pull up, and don’t delay in doing so. Remove it as quickly and completely as possible to prevent it from setting seed and from further covering other valued plants.
Q: I am familiar with white tuberoses. Recently, I saw tuberoses with pink and yellow blooms in a bulb catalog. Do you know anything about these?
A: Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa) is famous for its fragrance and gleaming white flowers. The two most commonly available varieties are ‘The Pearl’ and ‘Mexican Single.’ In the past year or so, some colored tuberoses have begun to appear in bulb catalogs including Terra Ceia Farms, Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Van Bourgondien & Sons and others. The new varieties we have seen offered are ‘Pink Sapphire’ (double pink), ‘Cinderella’ (dark dusky pink to plum), ‘Sensation’ (pink), ‘Yellow Baby’ (pale greenish yellow) and ‘Super Gold’ (dark greenish yellow). We are basing our descriptions on catalog photos.
We have not tried any of these new varieties, but, being tuberose lovers, we have already ordered some as well as the old-fashioned white ones. Don’t delay; the newer varieties may be in short supply. If you want to share your experiences with any of these tuberoses, write email@example.com.
Q: Something is growing in my back yard. I think it is a type of mushroom. There are several of them. They look like horns or fingers and are orange to salmon. Some have a slimy cap of olive brown. What are they? Are they harmless?
A: It sounds like the elegant stinkhorn (Mutinus elegans), and it is harmless. It is a fungus but does not exhibit the familiar stem and cap that we associate with a typical mushroom. The elegans in its scientific name means “elegant,” and it could be considered as possessing a more slender grace than other stinkhorn species. It is also called the “dog stinkhorn,” “headless stinkhorn” and “devil's dipstick.”
The elegant stinkhorn’s bright colors are eye-catching and its odor is “nose-catching.” It can smell like a locker room filled with a week’s accumulation of sweaty gym clothes. The slime you saw at the tips of some of the stinkhorns contains its spores, and the odor attracts flies and beetles to distribute them.
The stinkhorn and its odor disappear quickly. No control measures are needed or recommended. The fungus is often seen in the late summer and fall. The cool, wet weather of this spring has brought out an early crop in some areas.
Stinkhorns and similar fungi perform the important job of breaking down old plant matter such as leaves and dead wood and turning it into soil. You may find the elegant stinkhorn disgusting in smell and appearance, but your children may be delightfully grossed out and enjoy making up names for the mushroom that looks like a witch’s finger or a finger beckoning from the underworld. Use the elegant stinkhorn to teach them a lesson about fungi, decomposition and insects.
Q: I have been instructed to eat more raw vegetables, including salads. I hate lettuce. Do you have any ideas for non-lettuce salads?
A: Although lettuce is the foundation for many salads, there is no rule that requires it to be. One reason lettuce is used is because its leaves have a mild flavor, are thin and provide a large surface area for coating by the salad dressing.
For lettuce-free options, consider purchasing a mandoline that will allow you to cut vegetables into thin strips or slices. Instead of chunks of carrots, you can have ribbons of carrots that will blend more readily with other vegetables and that will also carry a lot of salad dressing. Some people do not like to eat celery because of the long strings, but by cutting the stalks thin you will get crescents of celery flavor without the stringiness. Radishes and young turnips are good candidates for the mandoline. Watermelon radishes (named due to its green skin and red interior) create a most colorful salad when sliced thinly and used freely. Fresh beets, bulb fennel and Brussels sprouts are a few other vegetables that can be transformed into salad material if shaved thinly. Cucumbers, long a salad mainstay, can be served in thick slices or wedges or also given the mandoline treatment. The flavor of these shaved salad vegetables can be enhanced by adding leaves of flat-leaf parsley, dill and cilantro.
Other leafy greens such as baby spinach, young kale, sprouts and cabbage may be used in salads. Other green vegetables to consider include raw asparagus and snow peas.
Slaw is really just cabbage salad with a mayonnaise or oil-vinegar dressing. Consider adding shredded carrot, broccoli and kale to the cabbage base along with apples or raisins.
Fresh tomatoes make a delicious salad on their own or with a little olive oil, salt and pepper or a simple oil-vinegar dressing or vinaigrette. Using two different colors of tomatoes will add more visual appeal. Tomatoes pair well with cucumbers. It won’t be long before both will be in season here in Georgia.
There are thousands of salad options, even without lettuce. Visit a farmers market this spring and summer for even more fresh and healthy Georgia Grown ideas.
Q: I saw a shrub earlier this month in a garden that has blooms that look like little magnolias and that smell like bananas. Do you know what it is?
A: It is appropriately called “banana shrub.” Its fragrance has been described as like that of ripe bananas or banana-flavored Popsicles or Creamsicles. The fragrance is strongest in the afternoon, and it is wonderful.
The flowers are usually cream to creamy yellow, edged in purple and attractive but not particularly showy. ‘Purple Queen’ and ‘Port Wine’ are two newer varieties that exhibit more purple coloration.
The flowers do indeed look like little magnolias, and more recent analysis has placed the shrub back in the genus Magnolia where it was many years ago. Its new botanical name is Magnolia figo, although you will probably see it listed under the former name of Michelia figo for some time to come.
Banana shrub is an attractive evergreen and can reach 10 feet high and 15 feet wide but is usually much smaller. With occasional pruning it can easily be kept as an informal hedge. It is a good shrub for planting next to a patio or porch where its fragrance can be appreciated up close. It is also a good plant for a child’s garden.
Banana shrub is best for coastal, southern and middle Georgia. It may be killed in the mountains and can suffer winter damage in northern Piedmont. We occasionally have seen some leaf damage and dieback from cold temperatures in Atlanta, but nothing severe enough to keep us from growing it here.
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce writes this weekly question-and-answer column to address questions about agriculture and questions about the services and products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. If you have a question, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 404-656-3656.