Norris Wooten is a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer who gardens in Terrell County.
There is always so much to learn about gardening that one cannot live long enough to even begin to understand it all. According to my garden calendar, Thomas Jefferson once said, “Though an old man, I am but a young gardener.” Recently I met someone who was interested in adding only native plants to his yard. I realized that I have much to learn about plants native to the Southeast. Here are a few tips on natives and imported invasives that may encourage you to learn more.
We all know that Japanese honeysuckle is invasive and can be tough to eradicate. Two alternatives to this are coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) and Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens). Both of these vines flower and coral honeysuckle is attractive to hummingbirds.
I don’t yet have the coral honeysuckle in my yard, but I do have a nice clump of pink muhly grass. It was pitiful and spindly the first year, but the last two years, in September, it was gorgeous. This native plant makes a lovely landscape accent, but do be patient while it is becoming established. Put it in a well-drained location; if you fertilize, be sparing with the fertilizer.
More native plants you may want to look up online and consider for your yard are blue phlox, Christmas fern, wild ginger or foamflower as ground covers. For vines, you might look for trumpet creeper or climbing hydrangea, as well as the two vines mentioned above. There are many shrubs recommended by the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. The bottlebrush buckeye, American beautyberry, sweetshrub, oakleaf hydrangea or any of the native azaleas and wax myrtles are just a few of the great native shrubs that may be enjoyed in your yard.
The Grancy graybeard, also called fringetree, may be a good small tree for the yard. It is a native and on the State Botanical Garden recommended list. Someone gave me a Grancy graybeard sprout, which has grown quite well. I have high hopes for it to look wonderful in a few years.
I cannot leave native plants without mentioning the scarlet rose mallow. This plant grows up to 8 feet high and about 4 feet wide. The heavy canes die after frost each year, but new growth comes back from the ground in April. I leave the old canes until March as a winter yard decoration. Scarlet rose mallow is extremely easy to grow from seed. The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants catalog says that great red hibiscus, also called scarlet rose mallow or swamp hibiscus, was quite popular in the early 19th century.
Those interested in a much larger list of native plants suitable for Georgia may go to the Georgia Native Plant Society’s website and see a list produced by the University of Georgia Horticulture Department.
According to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the top eight invasive plants are Chinese privet, Nepalese browntop, autumn olive, Chinese wisteria, mimosa, Japanese honeysuckle, amur honeysuckle and multiflora rose. According to a handout from the Georgia Native Plant society, the often planted butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) can be invasive. That one surprised me. The Native Plant Society suggests Virginia sweetspire, spice bush or summersweet as alternatives.
Here is a University of Georgia publication available free for the homeowner to print out. It will give you extensive information on invasive species.
August is a good time to refresh your mulch layer around late-producing vegetables and permanent shrubs like azaleas or blueberries. Mulch is also a great idea for trees. Place mulch in a wide area all around the tree, but not right up against the trunk.
You have probably seen pine straw mulch piled up in a volcano shape around tree trunks. Some people think this looks nice, but it is bad for the trees and can actually cause the trunk to rot and the tree to die. When you are adding mulch around your trees, always leave a two-inch circle around the trunk free of mulch to allow the trunk to breathe.
Pine straw is excellent mulch because it will allow rain to penetrate. Peanut shells are not recommended for mulch, as they can carry white mold and also may bring in weed seeds.
Good hay is excellent for the vegetable garden, but may not look right for your flower beds. If you mulch your vegetable garden with pine straw or hay, you may be surprised at how easy it is to pull the few weeds that make it up through the protective mulch. As well as conserving water, mulch keeps the ground from forming a hard crust.
In August, you may plant snap beans and Irish potatoes before the 15th. Plant cucumbers and squash before Aug. 31, but try to find varieties that are resistant to downy mildew. August is also a good time to start plants for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale and onions for setting out in September. Drought can be a problem in late summer, so this is where your mulch comes in handy to conserve what rain falls.
Early August is the right time to make your last application of a complete fertilizer to your warm season grass. Remember to fertilize centipede more lightly than other grasses.
With the excessive rains in July, gray leaf spot is becoming a problem for homeowners with St. Augustine lawns. It is most severe in shaded areas of the lawn. The leaf lesions begin as tiny brown spots that eventually enlarge to form oval or elongated tan spots with dark brown borders. The centers of the lesions may turn blue-gray. Call 1-800-ASKUGA1 for help with treatment.
Enjoy adding Georgia native plants to your landscape, watch out for those invasives and don’t build volcanoes around your trees.
Norris Wootton is a Master Gardener Extension Volunteer who gardens in Terrell County. She is a member of SOWEGA Master Gardeners and Georgia Master Gardener Association.