Loropetalum is a semi-evergreen that can bloom anytime


Most shrubs have a certain season where they are most attractive. Loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense) is one that can be pretty during any season. We have one at school near our greenhouses that has a few blooms and many buds right now.

Sometimes called Chinese fringe flower, this semi-evergreen shrub is in the witch hazel family. Most witch hazels bloom in late fall and early winter, but this one usually shows most color in late winter and early spring. A flush of mild winter weather can extend that season.

In summer, this shrub can still bloom profusely. If it is planted in a sheltered location and soils are kept moist but not wet, Loropetalum will thrive. Proper pruning can be a key to its general health and blooming frequency and duration.

In general, if this shrub is planted in a location where it has room to grow, it requires little pruning. Pruning can affect how profusely Loropetalums bloom, but these are tough plants. Their overall health won’t suffer. However, if you prune them in the fall you can expect very little flowering the following spring.

Historically, the biggest problem with fringe flowers was that they outgrew their place in the landscape. Many could attain 15 feet or more. It was easy to overcome, but the shrubs would look butchered for a couple months. In recent years, horticulturalists have developed new dwarf cultivars. This has been a great innovation. Two examples are ‘snow muffin’ and ‘snow dance’. Both grow to only about two feet tall. Numerous other cultivars in the four to six-foot range are now available.

Some fringe flowers have reddish to purplish leaves, while others have bluish-green foliage. Leaf color can also vary depending upon the quantity of shade plants receive. Too much light can wash out the natural hue. Too much shade can cause plants to lose the pigment too. Flower color can vary from the typical pink to a deep red. Some even have white flowers.

Fringe flowers have dense foliage consisting of many small leaves. Because of this, many songbirds are attracted to them for nests.

Another drawback to Lorapetalum occurs during harsh winters. These plants will lose their leaves when temperatures dip into the teens or single digits consistently. Unless winter weather is extremely severe, these plants will recover. They simply won’t have any leaves until spring. This happened around here about four or five years ago. It is common with abelias too.

One nice thing about incorporating fringe flowers into the landscape is that deer usually leave them alone. Generally, deer don’t like wild witch hazel plants either. Maybe it has something to do with the antiseptic nature of the foliage. Loropetalum leaf and stem preparations can be used topically just like witch hazel can, though they’re probably not as effective.

This is a shrub I like very much. It’s tough to kill, has nice color even when it isn’t blooming, and it’s likely to flower at any time. It’s also not invasive. I’ve never known it to spread seeds into adjacent places. Birds don’t seem to eat the seeds either.

Loropetalum foliage

Loropetalum foliage and flower buds close-up

Loropetalum being encroached by a Carolina Jessamine

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Leyland cypress is the mule of landscape material


We all know what a mule is. It’s a cross between a female horse (Equus caballus) and a male donkey (Equus asinus). Since the parents are different species the mule is sterile.

Leyland cypress is a lot like that, except its parents are even more distantly related. Leyland cypress is a cross between a Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) and a Nootka false cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis). These two trees are not only different species, but they’re also of different genera.

So, what does that all really mean? For one thing, this plant could never become invasive, because it doesn’t produce viable seeds. That’s one of its good points. Unfortunately, it probably has more bad traits than good ones.

Leyland cypress is fast growing. That can be good if the desired effect is developing a screen in a hurry. Many people use this plant as a windbreak because it grows quickly. Unfortunately, like most fast-growing species it has a shallow root system and plants often blow over.

Another problem is that most people look at Leyland cypresses as large shrubs and plant them too close together. These things can get over 60 feet tall. When planted close together they grow spindly and are even more subject to toppling over.

It’s easy to see why landscapers and homeowners like them. They have attractive bluish-green color, and they grow quickly. Even small specimens can make an impact in a short time. They also are used a lot in coastal areas, since they’re quite resistant to salt spray.

Leylands thrive in a wide variety of soils but won’t tolerate extremely dry or extremely wet environments for very long. Here in the southeast, those conditions can be common and last several weeks. When plants become stressed, they are susceptible to diseases and insects.

Bagworms are a major problem around here. If I need to find samples for teaching purposes, I can always find some. Older trees in dense plantings seem to be the most susceptible. Once bagworms become established it’s only a matter of time before all trees in the planting are affected and ruined. Spider mites can be problematic, too.

I like the idea of using these trees as a screen, but I would consider them a short-term screen. I’d plant a slower-growing, deeper-rooted and more disease and insect resistant species between them with the idea of removing the Leylands in a few years. That way I’d have privacy over a longer period.

In recent years, Leyland cypresses have become popular as Christmas trees. They respond well to frequent pruning and can be shaped quite easily. Branches don’t have the strength of firs, spruces or scots pine, and they don’t have traditional needles, but the crop can be marketable at a younger age.

My attitude toward this species is far less negative as it is toward the ornamental pears. They are a true scourge of the earth. I think Leyland cypress has some fine qualities. It’s not invasive, but it’s overused. We need to be more imaginative. There are many more evergreens at our disposal.

Leyland cypresses are readily available and easy to grow

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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The holiday season in the high-tech era


All the children were happy to be out of school. It’s probably a good thing that most folks have unlimited minutes and data plans. I remember the bag phone days when each minute cost about 50 cents whether you made the call or received it. Consequently, these devices weren’t used much, and most people didn’t have one.

Years ago, the period from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s Day seemed to run at a slower pace with more face to face contact. Texting didn’t influence day to day life until about 2005. Cell phones became popular a few years before that, but the technology was not friendly to texting. Now texting and online videos monopolize people’s brains.

It was easier to teach school before that time too. Cell phone distraction is so prolific now that electronic devices trump human contact. If technology is in the classroom, the teacher likely gets less than 75 percent of students’ attention. That’s assuming the kids even care about their progress. Many don’t.

It used to be that in the grocery or department stores people would talk to each other and with them a happy holiday, whichever one it might be. Now, if you see people talking in the store, they’re probably talking on their phones. Wish them a Merry Christmas and you either get ignored or receive a dirty look.

I remember when my siblings and I would look forward to the various Christmas specials. We eagerly anticipated the Grinch, Rudolph, Frosty, the Little Drummer Boy and many others. We’d plan the evening and make popcorn. That’s not an issue now. Those shows can all be streamed on YouTube or some other app on our tablets or phones. We can watch them anytime. As a result, we usually don’t.

I can’t remember the last time I heard of people going out Christmas Caroling. When I was young it was a major activity. Christmas lights are still big, but I think a major reason is so pictures can be posted on social media. There seems to be a contest as to who can receive the most likes. My kids are good at that.

People do manage to attend parades and other holiday events, because many of them make the social media circuit, too. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the holiday season. For me and I know many others, this season is still about family. I think even many of the younger folks value family too. They just have a different way of showing it.

I only hope that despite all the technology we still remember the significance of Thanksgiving and especially Christmas. To a large extent, both holidays revolve around our love for the Lord.

If we all keep God in the center of our lives, we will be the better for it. Still, let’s try to put the phones down a little more and fellowship with each other. Maybe that can be one of our New Year’s resolutions, and maybe we can keep that one.

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Cormorants are gluttonous birds unpopular with almost everyone


Sportfishermen hate them. Aquafarmers see them as a threat to their livelihood. Property owners watch them threaten the beauty and value of their property.

Cormorants have insatiable appetites for fish. A single bird will consume over a pound of fish every day. The same bird might also kill or wound double that amount that they don’t eat.

I enjoy watching most predatory birds, like hawks, herons, eagles and ospreys. They are efficient and basically clean birds. They also tend not to congregate in large groups.

Cormorants are different. Their nests are often close together and many, often dozens can be seen hunting together. They can really wipe out a school of fish in a hurry. They can also cause hundreds of dollars of damage to an aquaculture pond in a day or two.

A problem farmers and homeowners face is that these birds are federally protected. They fall under the migratory bird protection act. This was a treaty between the United States and Canada that was signed a hundred years ago.

It was designed to protect birds that traveled between the two countries. We usually think of ducks and geese when someone mentions this treaty, but many other birds are included. The double-crested cormorant is probably the most controversial.

During the DDT era, cormorants weren’t much of a problem. Their reproduction was kept in check the same way it was for bald eagles. In 1972 this insecticide was outlawed in the US, and it wasn’t long before cormorant populations began to explode.

This came at a time when aquaculture in the southeastern states was in its early stages. Catfish farms present an easy food source for cormorants. Dense populations of fish quickly draw huge numbers of these gluttonous birds.

One of the reasons cormorants deplete fish populations so much is that they kill and eat so many smaller fish. This reduces total fish numbers drastically. Cormorants also kill and injure many larger fish that they don’t eat. Their serrated hooked beaks can inflict mortal wounds even if the fish escapes.

On aquaculture farms, fish are often fed by automatic feeders. When food hits the water, the fish come to the surface. That’s when cormorants are most deadly. Farmers can obtain permits to control these birds, but it’s still an arduous task. Sometimes farmers use dogs to harass the predators. That usually keeps cormorants from nesting close to the food source, but these birds are relentless.

Depleting wild and domestic fish sources is not the only problem cormorants cause. They eat copious quantities of fish; that’s true. They also produce a tremendous amount of waste. Much of that goes through their digestive systems. They vomit significant quantities of indigestible matter, too.

When bird populations, particularly nesting sites are dense, the ammonia from the excrement and vomit can be toxic to soils. Trees and other plants can die because of it. The residue is also unsightly. It smells terrible too. I realize every creature has a place in the ecosystem, but I see few redeeming qualities of the double-crested cormorant.

Cormorant fishing on a small local pond

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Newer apple varieties are out there, but often hard to find


Last week I wrote about apple cultivars we see in the supermarkets. Most have been around for a long time. Many have drawbacks that we’d like to see changed.

The problem is that it takes time to get new apples on the market. It’s the same with other crops like potatoes. Some varieties have been around forever.

‘Kennebec’ potato variety was released in 1941 and ‘Sebago’ in 1941. ‘Red Pontiac’ came on the scene in the mid-1940s and Luther Burbank began developing the ‘Russet Burbank’ way back in 1872. All these cultivars are still major players today.

Many newer varieties are on the market now, but they don’t have the name recognition older varieties have. Seed growers continue to plant the older ones largely because they know they can sell them. Farmers plant what the seed growers produce. Nobody wants to be stuck with something the public doesn’t recognize.

It’s the same with apples only it’s riskier. It might take ten years for new apple trees to reach marketable maturity. That’s 500 Saturday nights without a paycheck. Choosing an apple largely unknown to the public is taking a chance, no matter how good it is, especially when growers have little trouble moving their fruit already.

‘Red Delicious’ is the old standby of the Washington apple growers, and Washington is by far the leading apple-producing state. However, this cultivar is falling out of favor for many reasons. Keeping and general eating quality are the major two.

A new cultivar called ‘Cosmic Crisp’ is the rage of the apple industry. It was developed from a cross between ‘Honey Crisp’ and ‘Enterprise’. Fruit quality is excellent. ‘Honey Crisp’ is an early apple with great eating characteristics but only average keeping quality. Its color is also less than ideal.

‘Cosmic Crisp’ is an improvement on all fronts. It matures later and keeps extremely well. It’s the darling of the Washington apple growing industry, but don’t expect to find it growing in any local nurseries. Growers in Washington are the only farmers allowed to raise this beauty for the next ten years.

‘Opal’ is a bright yellow cultivar with ideal texture and keeping qualities. It also has somewhat of an exotic flavor, reminding many of a hint of pineapple and banana. ‘Arctic Golden’ is a new variety that looks and tastes like ‘Golden Delicious’ but has far superior bruising resistance and keeping quality.

‘Swee Tango’ is a new cultivar advertised as the loudest crunch of any apple. It has a funny name, but if you’re a fan of hard crunchy apples this one might be for you.

‘Dazzle’ was originally developed in New Zealand. It’s a large round deep red apple that is sweet and keeps well. This selection took over 20 years to develop.

Many other fine new cultivars are out there, but it’s likely to take some time before the old standby cultivars get replaced. Replacing trees is an expensive process. I suspect many new cultivars might get released directly to the general public to be grown in backyard orchards.

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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We all have our favorite apple


There are thousands of apple cultivars worldwide. It seems everyone has a favorite. Some favor the pretty varieties like ‘Red Delicious’, while others like the sweet ones like ‘Fuji’, ‘Honey crisp’ or ‘Gala’. ‘Gala’ and ‘Honey crisp’ fruits are early maturing and ‘Fuji’ apples are late. If I had to choose, I’d say ‘Fuji’ is the sweetest.

I choose apples based on their flesh characteristics. Some have qualities that make them more suitable for a particular use. One of my favorites for fresh use in salads is ‘Cortland’. They’re not common around here as they’re adapted more to northern climates. They aren’t overly sweet, but they have a strong apple flavor.

‘Cortland’ apples have attractive white flesh and like ‘Granny Smith’ apples, they are very resistant to browning. They are also quite versatile. They hold together during cooking, so they’re great in pies. Folks who like smooth applesauce might prefer another cultivar. I like mine chunky.

‘Mcintosh’ is another northern cultivar. They’re usually grown alongside ‘Cortland’, and they complement each other. Macs make great smooth applesauce, and I like to use a few in pies to soak up the liquid and give the filling more viscosity. I grew up with ‘McIntosh’ and ‘Cortland’, so these two varieties will always have a soft spot in my heart.

One southern variety I especially like is ‘York’. These fruits are ugly and lopsided. They aren’t especially sweet either, but they keep for a long time and I love their full flavor. ‘York’ is considered more of a cooking apple, but I like them fresh.

One cultivar I don’t especially like is ‘Red Delicious’. These are beautiful apples and make great centerpieces, but their flavor is not to my liking. The texture goes downhill rapidly too.

As far as cooking is concerned, they get mushy very quickly, which should be good for applesauce. However, they seem to lose flavor during cooking and the applesauce turns out bland. Despite all this, they’re still the most popular apple cultivar.

‘Golden Delicious’ lives up the delicious name. They are sweet, crisp and juicy. They also make a fine baking apple. My problem with them is that they hold together a little too well in a pie. They break down very little, so pies often turn out chunky and runny. Another problem with this variety is that fruits tend to bruise easily.

‘Winesap’ is a cultivar with a great reputation as a cooking apple. They aren’t especially sweet, but they are very versatile. They make great pies and applesauce. Their flesh has a unique balance of firmness and disintegration when cooked.

In recent years ‘Pink Lady’ apples have gained popularity by leaps and bounds. They remind me a little of a colorful ‘Granny Smith’. They’re tart, firm and hold their color well when eaten fresh. They are late maturing, so you won’t see them in stores much early in the fall.

I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to apple varieties. Additionally, these are my preferences and you might have differing opinions. Try a new cultivar. You might like it.

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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Reblooming azaleas are popular and easy to maintain


Azaleas and nearly all spring-flowering shrubs and trees need to be pruned soon after flowering. A new fold has developed in recent years. Reblooming azaleas bloom in spring and fall. So what do we do?

First of all, any necessary pruning should be performed after the spring blooming season. Don’t prune these shrubs in the fall. There are two main reasons for this.

The first is that you will cut off next spring’s flowers if you prune in the fall. More importantly, fall pruning encourages new growth to develop. If mild conditions follow the pruning, plants will begin to sprout new growth. This could lead to winterkill.

In general, I discourage most fall pruning unless it is performed when plants are already dormant and the chances for regrowth are minimal. Exceptions would be plants that have become unsightly due to storm damage.

Reblooming azaleas are a great addition to our landscapes. The biggest complaint about azaleas has always been that they are only colorful for a short time. The rebloomers change that. Their most impressive blooming season is still the spring, but they offer additional color in the fall.

When I explain that plants need only be pruned in spring and even then, not as much as traditional azaleas, most folks like the idea of low maintenance. Some are concerned that the shrubs might get too large.

For those people, I stress paying attention to the cultivar. Some naturally stay small and some grow larger. Those customers wanting two to three-foot azaleas should not choose cultivars that grow five feet tall. Keeping them trimmed to the desired size will limit blooming.

In recent years there have been many new cultivars developed in numerous colors. Most nurseries carry several different ones.

However, after a number of years, if the shrubs have outgrown their space, they can be renewal pruned after spring flowering and maybe lightly trimmed once more that summer. By the following spring, they should be nearly back to normal.

Another consideration to reblooming azaleas is that they require a bit more sun than standard ones. For most gardeners, this is a positive trait. In general, azaleas struggle in our climate because they get too much sun. Rebloomers grow better under these conditions. In fact, they often struggle in locations favorable to traditional azaleas.

Perhaps eventually prices might be comparable to traditional azaleas, but at present, you can expect to pay about twice the price for rebloomers. Even at that, they are far from overpriced, and they are well adapted to our sandy acid soils.

Some people think that because of the additional bloom, these azaleas might require more fertilizer. This isn’t the case. When fertilizing, only use fertilizers that are for acid-loving plants. Also, overfertilizing could make azaleas more susceptible to lace bugs.

Lace bugs should be treated early, and since so many folks around here plant azaleas, you’ll likely encounter them. A systemic insecticide containing imidacloprid or acephate works well. It’s often helpful to alternate these chemicals, so pests don’t build up any type of resistance.

Blooming doesn’t have quite the impact it does in the spring, but it’s still nice.

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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