Ga Dept of Agriculture


Consumer Q's February 2015

Question: What is the correct way to pronounce “pecan”? My wife says she pronounces it the Southern way. I disagreed and we got into an argument.
Answer: It’s too bad George and Ira Gershwin didn’t include pecans in the light-hearted toMAYto-toMAHto debate in "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Perhaps people would not take the pronunciation of pecan so seriously.
    There are several ways to pronounce pecan. There is no single “correct” way. There is no single “Southern” way to pronounce it either. Pronunciation varies across the country, across the South and across Georgia. There are at least four common pronunciations in America and at least two other pronunciations in Britain. All are acceptable.
     We are reminded of a story from Helen Corbitt, former director of food services for Neiman-Marcus. She once served a dish containing pecans to the Duke of Windsor at a luncheon in Houston. In her 1957 cookbook she wrote that she and the Duke carried on a “spirited conversation” over the dish and the pronunciation of pecan. Says Corbitt, “I won the round when I said living in the United States you could say it any way you wish.”  
     We agree and also suggest you take a lesson from Fred & Ginger ( and Ella & Louis ( and call the whole thing off. Declare a truce sealed with a delicious piece of pecan pie, a cup of hot coffee and a kiss.

Q: The list of dietary guidelines I received includes “swedes” as a vegetable I can eat, but I have never seen or heard of this. What is it?
A: “Swede” is another word for rutabaga. Rutabagas are also sometimes called “Swedish turnips” or “yellow turnips.” Rutabagas are usually sold with a coating of food-grade wax to help preserve them. They can be peeled and cooked similar to turnips. They are generally sweeter than turnips. They may be cooked and mashed like Irish potatoes and served plain or with butter, nutmeg or other toppings. They are sometimes cooked with salt pork or cooked and served with ham.  
     A good dish for a winter day is to serve them roasted alone or with other winter vegetables such as parsnips, beets, sweet potatoes, onions and winter squash. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel and quarter the onion(s). Peel and cut the other vegetables into equal sized pieces, about 1-inch chunks. Toss vegetables in olive oil in a large bowl and season, if you like, with salt, pepper and chopped thyme, oregano or other herbs. Peeled, whole garlic cloves are a good addition, as are Brussels sprouts. Turnips and carrots are two other root vegetables you can add to the mix. Tailor it to suit your taste or what you have on hand. Spread the pieces out in a single layer on one or two roasting pans. Roast until the veggies are lightly browned and tender, 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the vegetables. Remove and season to taste. It is a flexible and filling dish for a cold day.

Q: I need to landscape my home. Everyone is planting the purple-leaved loropetalums with fringy pink or magenta flowers. Are these good? What are some other options? I don’t care for the purple leaves. I do want something with flowers, however.
A. Purple loropetalums have become ubiquitous in Georgia. They are good, but there are many other good flowering shrubs that can be planted instead. Here are a few versatile options to consider: glossy abelia, red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia), sweet-bubby bush (Calycanthus floridus), tea-oil camellia (Camellia oleifera), sasanqua camellia, Japanese camellia, flowering quince, summersweet clethra (Clethra alnifolia), winterhazel (Corylopsis pauciflora), witch hazel (Hamamelis species and hybrids), Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), redvein enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus), dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii), large fothergilla (Fothergilla major), Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), forsythia, Japanese kerria, Alabama snow-wreath (Neviusia alabamensis), winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), Japanese pieris, Yeddo hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis umbellata), pomegranate, dwarf pomegranate, gardenia, shrub althea, laurustinus and various hydrangeas, spireas, azaleas and rhododendrons. There are also green-leaved loropetalums with white flowers, but they are not as commonly available as purple ones.
     Although you asked for flowering shrubs, do not discount shrubs that have small flowers but have showy, colorful berries such as American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata). And don’t forget that although we tend to think of blueberries as strictly a fruiting shrub, they function well in the home landscape for their attractive white flowers in spring and crimson to scarlet foliage in the fall.
      Each of these may not be suitable to your specific needs or landscape conditions or your taste. Ask a horticulturist at your nursery or garden center about these and other possibilities.  

Q: What is the best way to bake a sweet potato?
A: There is not one “best” way to bake sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are a flexible and forgiving vegetable that can be baked in numerous and inexact ways and still turn out delicious.
     Here are some tips and ideas to get you started:
     Select medium-sized sweet potatoes. The ones too big for a person to eat in one sitting should be reserved for candied yams, sweet potato fries or other recipes. Rinse the sweet potato to remove any dirt. Use a vegetable brush if necessary. Many people rub them with vegetable oil and/or pierce the skin with a knife or fork several times. Place the sweet potatoes on a pan to prevent leaking juices from burning on the bottom of the oven. Preheat your oven to 350-400 degrees F. and bake for 40-60 minutes. They are done when a fork passes easily through the thickest part. Smaller potatoes will cook quicker than larger ones.
     On cold days we like the warmth that comes from baking sweet potatoes in a conventional oven. If it’s hot or you’re in a hurry, you can microwave them. Pierce the sweet potato’s skin five or six times. Microwave for five to eight minutes, rotating halfway through.
     Baked sweet potatoes are good enough to eat plain. Pats of butter are the most common topping. Second is probably ground cinnamon. Some people complement the sweetness of the potato with paprika or kosher salt. Peanut oil infused with hot pepper flakes and cinnamon is a more daring choice. If you can find some Georgia Grown pecan oil, that is a good option. Toasted pecans go hand in hand with sweet potatoes. Another savory path is to try various cheeses. Why should adornments be reserved for only Irish potatoes?
     We believe in experimenting in the kitchen to find out what works best for you and tastes best to you and your family, especially when there are so many delicious options to explore.  

Q: When is Georgia’s next auction of rehabilitated horses?

A: The Georgia Department of Agriculture will conduct a live auction on Saturday, March 14, at the Mansfield Impound Barn, 2834 Marben Farm Rd., Mansfield, Georgia 30055. The horses may be inspected at the facility beginning at 10 a.m. The sale will start at 11 a.m. For more information, contact the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s Equine Health Office at 404-656-3713. (M-F 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
Q: What are some small houseplants that will fit on a narrow windowsill?
Answer: There are numerous plants that may work because they are naturally diminutive or because they are small when young and can live on a windowsill for a long time until they grow too large.
     Here are a few plants to consider: miniature African violets, bird’s nest sansevieria, miniature orchids, tillandsias and other small bromeliads, creeping fig and string of hearts/rosary vine (Ceropegia woodii).
     There are many cactuses and succulents that are small or slow-growing. They may be good choices provided the window receives lots of light. A few examples are jade plant (young specimen), haworthia, bead plant (Senecio rowleyanus), lithops and moon cactus or another of the popular grafted cactuses. Depending on the cultivar, your grafted cactus may have a red, yellow, pink, green or chocolate brown head and bring some needed color to the smallest windowsill.
     Windowsills provide plenty of room for bulbs of paperwhite narcissus, hyacinth or crocus in specially-made forcing vases.
     Why not consider a windowsill garden consisting of cuttings of plants rooting in bottles or vases of various colors? Try coleus, wax begonia, angelwing begonia, philodendron, night-blooming cereus, pothos, Swedish ivy, English ivy, dieffenbachia or purple passion plant. You can pot these in the spring or throw them on the compost pile and start over. Using colored clear containers and plants with different colored leaves can bring a stained glass effect to an ordinary window.
     If you find your windowsills are too narrow or crowded for the plants you want to grow, investigate expanding your space with a window greenhouse.
     Visit a local garden center to get even more ideas.

Q: I received a bare-root apple tree that had a coating of wax. Do I need to scrape it off? Why was it coated to begin with?
A: Packaged and mail-order plants such apple trees and rose bushes that are sold bare-root (soil removed from roots) may be coated with wax to help prevent them from drying out while in storage or in retail stores. Don’t worry about the wax; it will degrade and break away.

Q: Is there anything wrong with having a white clover lawn? I can’t get grass to live, but the patches of clover are doing great.
A: A lawn consisting entirely or partially of clover is fine. There is no law that says a lawn must be grass. In fact, many years ago seed companies and garden centers used to sell clover seeds for lawns. Some are doing it again.  
     If you live in a neighborhood or development that has restrictions, you may want to check on rules and homeowner covenants before proceeding, however. If you run into opposition, do your research and gently explain that there is a long history of clover lawns. Clover is a legume and doesn’t’ require the fertilizer that a conventional grass lawn does. It also requires less water and fewer pesticides. Also, clover flowers are pretty and provide food for honeybees and butterflies.

Q: I recently saw pictures of gaillardia. Can you tell me more about it? Is it easy to grow?
A: Gaillardia has beautiful, boldly patterned red and yellow flowers which account for three of the plant’s other common names of “blanketflower,” “Indian blanket” and “firewheel.”  
     Gaillardias are easy to grow. Some are annuals and some are perennials. The perennial ones tend to be short-lived compared to some other perennials such as daylilies. You can grow them from seed (available in catalogs or at garden centers) or purchase plants at nurseries this spring. There are numerous forms available varying in plant size and flower color and form.  
     Gaillardias love sun and can withstand lots of heat. You may see wild gaillardias growing just past the dunes and on beachfront properties. This is an indication of what they like: good air circulation, lots of sun and well-drained soil. They cannot tolerant wet soils or heavy clay. A poor, sandy soil is what they like best. We have heard of them doing well in clay soil provided they are kept dry, i.e. grown in a sunny spot under the eaves of a building.
     You can encourage gaillardias to bloom over a longer period by deadheading them (nipping off the flowers as they fade to keep them from going to seed.) However, we like to let some seeds form to allow the plants to reseed themselves.
     A few good companion flowers to plant with gaillardia include butterflyweed, gaura, thrift (Phlox subulata), evening primrose, purple coneflower, clasping heliotrope, sedum, yucca, achillea and Russian sage. Because it thrives in the same conditions as lavender, thyme, rosemary and santolina, consider using gaillardia to brighten your herb garden.
     Gaillardias can also be grown in large containers. This is a good option if you cannot amend your soil to suit their needs. There are numerous varieties, some of which are dwarf and especially suited to containers.

Q: What are Lenten roses?
A: Lenten roses are not actual roses but are a type of hellebore. They are durable and dependable perennials. As their name implies, they often bloom during Lent.
     Lenten roses and other hellebores have grown in popularity and availability over the last two decades. In the past you may have only had one or two to choose from, but now you may find several varieties or different species at nurseries and garden centers. Colors include mauve, white, pink, maroon, green, chartreuse and yellow.    
     Besides having pretty flowers, Lenten roses are drought tolerant, thrive in shade and have few, if any, insect or disease pests. Deer avoid eating them, an advantage in these days of exploding deer populations. 

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 or call him at 404-656-3656.