Q: Is it just my opinion or are the daffodils blooming early this year?
A: We don’t have a logbook recording many years of all the earliest blooming dates of all the daffodil varieties in Georgia, but we have been receiving reports and witnessing earlier than normal blooming with daffodils this year. In fact, it was just announced that Gibbs Gardens (www.gibbsgardens.com
) in Ball Ground is opening for the season on February 18 – two weeks earlier than originally scheduled. Since Gibbs is an official American Daffodil Society Display Garden where visitors can see a Wordsworthian host of more than 20 million daffodils – the largest daffodil display in the country – we feel confident in answering that the daffodil season is off to an early start.
Visit Gibbs Gardens (1987 Gibbs Drive, Ball Ground, GA 30107; phone 770-893-1881) or other public gardens now to see the early daffodil varieties and in a few weeks to see some of the later-blooming ones. If you only know yellow trumpet daffodils, you owe yourself a visit. There are more different daffodil varieties today than ever. They differ in color, form, size, fragrance and blooming time.
Q: Where can I learn more about old-timey daffodils? Is there a good reference book?
A: A good start is “A Historics Handbook – A Short Field Guide to the Most Common Historic Daffodils in the Deep and Coastal South” available free at the Georgia Daffodil Society website (www.georgiadaffodilsociety.com
). If you need more information, get a copy of Daffodils in American Gardens: 1733-1940
by Sara Van Beck. It’s authoritative as well as interesting. She and other experts will be speaking at Daffodil Day on March 11 at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery (www.oaklandcemetery.com
). The event is free and lasts from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Q: Where can I find a list of dog and cat food that has been recalled in Georgia? What causes a pet food to get recalled?
A: You can sign up to receive email or text alerts and see a comprehensive list of all food recalls impacting Georgia online at the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s (GDA) website at www.agr.georgia.gov/recalls.aspx
. There you will find a list of recent recall alerts for food and feed products that have been distributed to Georgia and/or were produced here. Recall notices come from the GDA as well as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection. You may also wish to follow the GDA on Twitter @GDAFoodSafety for recall alerts and food safety tips.
Pet foods and animal feeds may be recalled for the same reasons that human foods are recalled – they could harm your animal or you due to your handling of the product. The reasons vary as much as they do in human foods including too much or too little of a vitamin or other ingredients or the presence of pathogens or foreign materials such as bits of plastic or metal. The links on the GDA website will give you specific information about why products were recalled.
Q: I have always called the trees with large, purple flowers that bloom in early spring “tulip trees” but a friend calls them “saucer magnolias.” Are they the same?
A: The trees you are describing are probably Magnolia x soulangiana. Some people call them tulip trees, but they are most often called saucer magnolias to avoid confusion with Liriodendron tulipifera which has long been known as tulip tree or tuliptree as well as being called tulip poplar and yellow poplar.
Common names vary from place to place and may change over the years. Also, one plant may have several names and several plants may share the same name. If you are unsure about the identity of a plant you want to purchase, ask a horticulturist at the nursery or garden center or do your research beforehand to avoid a case of mistaken identity and possible problems. For example, while both of these “tulip trees” are wonderful, they are not interchangeable. Their flower color, blooming time and ultimate size are quite different.
Q: When is the next auction of rehabilitated horses in Georgia?
A: The next auction will be Saturday, March 25, at the Lee Arrendale Equine Center, 645 Gilstrap Road, Alto, Georgia 30510. The gates will open 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: Someone told me to use ice cubes to water an orchid. Is that the correct way?
A: If it works for your friend or for you, continue with what works, but it is not a good overall recommendation in our opinion. Houseplants in general, including most orchids grown as houseplants, are tropical in origin. They do not want ice or frigid water on their roots or leaves. The ice cube theory-fad made its rounds in the 1970s as a way to water hanging baskets, and it seems to have been rehashed and is making the rounds again.
Consider what your plants need, and also ask yourself if handling ice cubes is really any easier than basic watering techniques. For more detailed information about specific orchids and their care, visit the website of the American Orchid Society (www.aos.org
). You may also want to discuss your orchid with a horticulturist at your local garden center. Garden centers and county Cooperative Extension offices sometimes sponsor seminars in which orchid experts can give advice to novices.
Q: When is Daffodil Day?
A: The third annual Daffodil Day at Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery (www.oaklandcemetery.com) will be March 11. The event is free and lasts from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is a good opportunity to learn about all kinds of daffodils, both historic and modern.
Q: I need some evergreen shrubs or trees to block a view in a sunny location. I don’t want them to look like a deliberate screen or hedge. I also want to be able to trim them if they get too big. I do not want Leyland cypress or other conifers. Any suggestions?
A: Nature does not plant in straight lines or keep plants meticulously pruned like a Marine haircut, so to achieve a natural effect, stagger your selected plants and keep them pruned (if at all) in an informal style instead of a tightly controlled, formal style. This will make your planting more natural in appearance as well as easier to care for. Monocultures are not the norm in the natural world, so select different kinds of trees and shrubs instead of using only one kind. Besides, a mixed screen or hedge will be less likely to be damaged by a disease or insect that could decimate it if it consisted of only one kind of plant.
Although you mentioned you did not want conifers, you may not want to rule them out entirely as they could provide different textures and colors to the planting, making it look more natural and less “heavy” while still screening the view. Incorporating some thick deciduous shrubs along with the evergreens will help, too. They may not block the view completely in winter, but can provide more screening than you think, especially if planted in double rows. They also can help an expansive planting of evergreens from being too gloomy.
A few broad-leaved evergreens to consider are sasanqua camellia, Nellie R. Stevens holly, yaupon holly, Fortune’s osmanthus, fragrant tea olive, devilwood (Osmanthus americanus), Carolina cherrylaurel, Portuguese cherrylaurel (Prunus lusitanica), Foster holly, Chindo viburnum, non-dwarf forms of English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus), Southern waxmyrtle, Emily Bruner holly, dahoon holly (Ilex cassine), Little Gem Southern magnolia, Henry anise-tree (Illicium henryi), Florida anise-tree (Illicium floridanum), Japanese cleyera (Ternstromia gymnathera), lusterleaf holly (Ilex latifolia) and Chinese photinia (Photinia serrulata).
A few conifers to consider are Eastern red cedar and other junipers, arborvitae and cryptomeria. A few large deciduous shrubs to consider include blueberries, mock orange, flowering quince and blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium).
Depending on the lay of the land and your vantage point, the screen/hedge may not need to be as tall as you think. A landscape designer or a horticulturist at your local garden center or nursery may be able to guide you on the plants that will best meet your needs if they visit your site or if you show them photos. They may also offer other plant options than the few listed here.
Q: What is cutting celery?
A: Cutting celery is also known as “leaf celery.” It is greener and has smaller stalks and stronger flavor than the familiar “stalk celery” sold in grocery stores. Because of its intense flavor, cutting celery could be considered an herb instead of a vegetable. Cutting celery is used to add flavor to salads, lentils, dried beans, pickles, vegetable stocks and soups, especially chicken-based soups. It can be juiced with tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers and other vegetables. It may be dried for later use.
Stalk celery can be a demanding and persnickety crop. Cutting celery is better suited for our soils and climate. You may find Georgia Grown cutting celery now at farmers markets. If you are only familiar with the milder and paler stalk celery, give cutting celery a try.
Home gardeners may want to grow cutting celery in their vegetable or herb gardens. Numerous seed companies offer the seeds. If you don’t see it in the vegetable section, check the herb section.
Q: I saw some beautiful primroses of yellow, purple, red, violet and other colors at a garden center last week. Will they withstand the cold and come back next year?
A: The primroses you saw may be classified as perennials but are best considered as annuals in our climate because they don’t survive well in our heat or red clay soils. They are cold hardy, but the ones you see blooming now were grown in a greenhouse and would probably be damaged if subjected to freezing temperatures.
Just because you can’t count on them as perennials doesn’t mean you shouldn’t purchase some primroses to enjoy, however. There are few flowers that brighten late winter and lift your spirit as these vibrant candy-colored primroses do – and they do it with no carbs, calories or threat of caries. You may even notice a delicate, sweet fragrance in the yellow varieties.
Place your primrose in a sunny window in a cool room if you want to keep it as a houseplant. They can be used to add temporary winter color to planters and containers outdoors. They may also be placed outdoors on sunny, warm days and set inside at night if freezing temperatures are predicted.
Q: I found a pebble in a bag of dried beans. Is this common?
A: Even with the most careful attention and best processing equipment available, sometimes a small stone or clod of hard soil will get into dried beans, peas and lentils when they are harvested. We suggest you look over the contents closely to pick out any foreign object that may have accidentally slipped in. Pour the dried beans into a colander and run your fingers through them while you give them a visual once-over. Then rinse them before cooking.
Q: Are luffa gourds edible? Is there a difference between loofah gourds and luffa gourds?
A: Luffa (also spelled loofah) gourds may be eaten when small (less than six inches) and tender. When grown or eaten as a vegetable, they are sometimes referred to as "running okra" or "Chinese okra." If they get too big, they become too fibrous. If they reach that stage, they are usually allowed to mature and are harvested and dried as luffa “sponges."
Luffas are easy to grow from seed. Sow them outside after all danger of frost is past.
Q: Can you tell me about a shrub that was blooming in January with clusters of silver buds and fragrant, yellow flowers? It was labeled “Paperbush – Edgeworthia chrysantha.”
A: It sounds like the shrub was identified correctly. Edgeworthia chrysantha is called paperbush, golden paperbush, edgeworthia or by its full botanical name and is especially prized for its wintertime appeal. Its clusters of silky, silver buds hang at the tips of its branches and open into yellow flowers that release a delightful fragrance similar to that of winter daphne (Daphne odora), a related shrub in the same family. The bright clusters make the shrub look like it is in bloom a long time before the buds actually open.
Paperbush is deciduous and has thick stems and a coarse branching pattern. Its leaves resemble those of plumeria and give the shrub a tropical look in summer. It prefers moist, well-drained soil and partial shade. It is a good companion for azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. Paperbush is a medium to large shrub. Its ultimate size will depend on the cultivar and how it is grown and maintained.
Another species, Edgeworthia papyrifera, is sometimes offered but is listed as not as durable and winter hardy and lacking in fragrance. Some people believe both are variations within the same species. Some hold that the name should be Edgeworthia tomentosa. Leave those arguments to the taxonomists and go visit a garden center or botanical garden now to see and smell paperbush. By the way, “paperbush” refers to how the bark was once used to make high-grade paper.
Q: Do I need to take precautions when bringing houseplants home during winter? I wanted to buy an orchid but it was below freezing outside.
A: Garden centers can be oases on cold winter days, especially if they have a greenhouse filled with tropical plants. When it is below freezing, you may want to delay your purchase, especially if the plant is large and cannot be quickly transported to a heated vehicle. A brief exposure to freezing temperatures can damage some sensitive houseplants.
If you need to buy a tropical houseplant when temperatures are below freezing or in the 30s, bag or wrap the plant to protect it from the blast of cold air (the garden center staff should help you with this), go heat your car, pull up the curb or front of garden center where a worker can see you and quickly bring your wrapped purchase to you from the warmth of the store to the warmth of your car. Do not make other stops on the way home and get the houseplant inside as quickly as possible.
Generally, this is not a big problem in Georgia. Frigid temperatures do not last long, and we can plan our purchases with the changes in weather. However, if you are moving to a new house or relocating your office to a different building, you may not have the luxury of delay or of relocating plants beforehand.
Q: What is the price range on an average horse? The kids want one, but I do not want to invest a lot since it may be a passing phase.
A: Prices can vary greatly but, whatever the initial price, perhaps the cheapest part of being a horse owner is the onetime cost of purchasing the horse. Shelter, fencing, feed, pasture upkeep, equipment, insurance, farrier services, veterinary care – the bills are ongoing and so are the responsibilities of caring for the horse.
If you are not ready to make the financial and physical commitment of owning a horse, there are several options that will allow you and your children to learn about and interact with horses on a regular basis. Perhaps a good first step is to arrange for lessons through a local stable. Lessons are more than just learning about how to ride. A stable with an established program will provide instruction in horse care and maintenance as well. Volunteering at a farm, shelter or rescue with horses or becoming involved with a local horse club are other options to see if it’s more than just a phase.
Being a horse owner is not all sugar cubes and trotting through grassy meadows. Horses can be very rewarding, but everyone involved should carefully consider the costs, not only in dollars but also in time and work before they commit to buying a horse.
If you have questions about agriculture, Georgia Grown products, horticulture, food safety or about the services or products regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, write Arty Schronce (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit the department’s website at www.agr.georgia.gov.