Friday, August 13, 2010

New Backyard Vegetable Publication from Penn State

Who said there is nothing new under the sun? Penn State just published a new, 58 page guide to backyard vegetable production titled Vegetable Gardening… Recommendations for Home Gardeners in Pennsylvania. It contains sections on mulches, container growing, irrigation and other cultural practices. Following this, there is a separate discussion of key plant groups: Brassicas (cabbages), root crops, bulb crops, leafy vegetables, tomato/eggplant and others.

There is information on seed starting, planting dates, spacing, pest management and harvesting…. everything beginning gardeners need to begin a successful garden. Seasoned gardeners are sure to pick up a few new ideas as well.

Dates described in the guide refer to central Pennsylvania. Those of us in the southern part of the state can adjust suggested dates about 10 days at both ends of the growing season. So, the gardening season is not over! Lettuces, turnips, radish are just a few of the tasty crops we can seed or transplant this month. With season extending rows covers we’ll be gardening until Thanksgiving.

Vegetable Gardening… Recommendations for Home Gardeners in Pennsylvania distills the knowledge of more than dozen Penn State experts and was organized by associate professor of Horticulture, Elsa Sanchez. You can order a copy or simply read it on line by going to this site.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Summer Color with Crapemyrtles

Most of the flowering trees and large shrubs we admire in the landscape are spring bloomers. Think dogwood, cherry, magnolia….crabapple, pear, serviceberry….redbud, lilac and viburnum.

So, stunning summer flowering trees are a treat for the eyes. One of the most conspicuous small trees/large shrubs that I see at this time of year is Crapemyrtle, Lagerstroemia. Common flower colors are shades of pink and red but white cultivars exist. In addition to the showy flowers, Crapemyrtle bark is very attractive…shades of cinnamon brown and gray that exfoliates with age. One respected plantsman says “If Crapemyrtle never produced flowers or leaves, it would not be a bad thing.” That’s high praise for bark characteristics.

One reason Crapemyrtle is somewhat unusual in Pennsylvania landscapes is its hardiness. Unless you are in zone 6 or 7 it won’t survive. Even in zone 6, expect dieback to the ground in severe winters. What has helped make Crapemyrtle more popular is a breeding program from the National Arboretum which added both winter hardiness and disease tolerance from Lagerstroemia fauriei to Lagerstroemia indica, resulting in about 20 wonderful hybrids. These cultivars, developed by Dr. Donald Egolf, all have Native American tribal names, so they are easy to spot. Tuscarora, Natchez, Hopi, Sioux, etc. A list of National Arboretum selections and a thorough description will guide you to good decisions.

Aside from being marginally hardy for parts of Pennsylvania, the plant is tough as nails. Yea, Japanese beetles like to chew on them and reference books describe other pests… but nothing life threatening. Crapemyrtles thrives in hot spots and tolerate poor soil. Full sun exposure is best.

So, if you have a hot spot in the landscape that can accommodate a multi-stemmed tree/shrub which will mature between 10 and 20 feet, and you would like a splash of bright color in the landscape in mid-summer, think Crapemyrtles. Start with the National Arboretum selections and beware of hardiness requirements. I counted more than 60 cultivars in my reference books, not all of them are appropriate for Southeastern Pennsylvania.