The Kiawah Island Garden Club met in February to hear Nancy Hart, of Church Creek Nursery, talk about growing succulents, which have specially structured leaves which hold water. Deer do not normally like succulents, but the “lead doe” in each herd decides what the herd will eat. Most succulents are cold hardy in our area, down to 20 degrees, and some are moderately hardy, down to 28 degrees. Sedums are normally flat growing succulents and are great ground covers. Another succulent type is Echeveria, better known as “hens and chicks”, which hardly ever need water: if they are bone dry wait another week to water and never let water puddle. Echevarias will grow from one leaf, or an entire stem (a cutting with no roots): just stick it in the soil, do not water and it will send out roots. The water would rot the plant.
Succulents with tiny leaves do need water and average drainage like normal plants. Ice Plants are dry-loving plants, and in planters should be paired with similar plants. They are great for creating “fairy gardens”.
In planters, the soil should be peat and perlite potting soil and ¼ builders sand for drainage, with no bark, which holds water. Good soil is available at All Seasons at River Road and Maybank. A hole in the bottom of the pot is best, which can be drilled with a masonry bit (a little water in the pot while drilling keeps it from cracking). Then a shard should be placed over the hole. A good design principle is to plant a “Thriller, a Spiller and a Filler”, with the taller center plant as the Thriller. Chinese Sedum, which turns red in the Fall is perfect, and is garden hardy. Harmonious or contrasting succulents are then planted around the Thriller plant. After planting the pot, water it thoroughly and then leave it alone. If you fertilize use a weak solution maybe once a month, and do not use Root Tone.
A lovely way to grow succulents is in a wreath formed from spaghnum moss. Simply soak the wreath and then stick cuttings into it, holding them in place with hairpins. When it needs water, submerge it in water for 10 minutes then let it dry out. If you want to hang the wreath, let it “root in” for a good while first.
All succulents will grow with four hours of sun, maybe 5, but no more. They will take less water. Indoors the plants need to be close to a window, lamp light doesn’t count. You can leave plants outside but they need to be sheltered in extended periods of rain, three days or so.
On November 14, the Kiawah Island Garden Club met to hear Peggy Groce give tips for forcing all sorts of bulbs. She is a retired horticulturist who has had her own nursery in Plano Texas and has also been active in horticulture in Chicago and Pittsburg. She volunteers at the Charleston Horticulture Society and is vice President of the Alhambra Garden Club in Mt. Pleasant.
There are two types of Amaryllis, the Belladona which is South African in origin and grows outdoors, and the Hippeastrum, native to South America and which can be forced indoors as well as being planted outdoors. These come in single, double, miniatures and many colors and combination. To force indoors, soak the roots (not the bulb) in lukewarm water for 30 minutes, then plant in soil in a small enough container that the bulb is tight and cozy, with about 1-2 inches on each side. Do not put more than 1/3 of the bulb below the soil and water once a week. Keep in a cool place for 3-6 weeks with filtered bright light. Don’t keep them in the dark as they will “stretch” to get light. Once they bloom do not let them sit in sunlight, and water lightly.
To make your Amaryllis bloom again, keep it cool through the holidays and keep it barely moist. When the last flower has faded, cut the flower stalks near the top of the bulb. Move it to bright sunlight, even a south facing window, fertilize monthly with a liquid fertilizer and never allow the soil to dry completely. In the spring, move the plant outdoors, water daily and fertilize every two weeks. If you want your plant to bloom for the holidays, it needs to enter its dormant period by mid August. Withhold water and move it to a cool (around 55 degrees) area. After 8-10 weeks of cool storage the tip of new growth will emerge. Three weeks in a warm spot (70-80 degrees) will encourage it and then you can repot it with fresh soil, put in a sunny spot until it begins to bloom. If done right, your bulb will rebloom for years.
Papperwhites and Hyacinths can also be forced to bloom, on top of rocks or pebbles, not soil. Water should only reach the roots, not the bulbs. Many people “gin up” their plants after 3-4 weeks of growth, to prevent weak flower stalks. Drain the water in the container and replace it with a mixture of one part gin (or rubbing alcohol) to 10 parts water and continue watering with this mixture. The whole container should be kept cool, in a refrigerator for the first 3-4 weeks before moving to a warm bright spot.
Amaryllis bulbs reached the US in 1811 and during the 1800s there were only about 2 blooms per bulb. Now cultivars provide 4-6 flowers per stem, and there are often several stems per bulb. In 1933 the Amaryllis Society was begun and all bulbs and seeds are inspected and controlled by the USDA. They now come from South Africa and Holland.
Pointsettias are still number one for the holidays. There are many legends about their introduction to the US, but the plant is endemic to Southern Mexico and arrived here in 1828 and was named to honor Joel Roberts Poinsett. Another popular holiday plant is Christmas cactus, which is a tropical cactus, discovered in 1819 in Brazil, where it grows on trees. Other cactus plants bloom at Thanksgiving and at Easter.
The Kiawah Island Garden Club were guests of the Kiawah Island Nature Conservancy for a fun and informative talk by Dr. Richard Dwight Porcher, retired biology professor at the Citadel and author of several books. He was the author of A Guide to Wildflowers of South Carolina and is working on Wildflowers of the Carolina Lowcountry, with Dr. Joel Gramling. Dr. Porcher mentioned that much of the land in the Nature Conservancy is where he explores and takes his digital photography. Since he wrote a book on the lowcountry wildflowers years ago, which is now out of print, so much of the nomenclature has changed and he’s thankful that Dr. Gramling, who took over his professorship at the Citadel, is researching that aspect of the book. Dr. Gramling runs the Herbarium at the Citadel also.
There is incredible natural diversity of the Carolina Lowcountry, a natural transition stretching from Cape Fear to Florida, with over 2000 plants in the plain alone. Some plants are contained in remnant communities from when the glaciers receded, such as Beech trees (a mountain species) along creeks. The Waccamaw River and Sugarloaf Mountain areas contain remnant communites, as do native shell deposits.
2 million years ago the coastline reached far inland, to near Columbia, and the deposits laid down then form the limestone and marl formations over which our land stretches, and on which many calcium loving plants thrive. The ancient sand hills in the Upstate are the old shore line. The Maritime grassland thrives because freshwater is lighter than saltwater and sits atop sand, and it is there that the Common Marsh Pink grows. The tidal freshwater marsh is formed as freshwater backs up when the tide comes in; thousands of acres of abandoned rice fields which were built there have reverted to marshland.
Another unique habitat is formed in peat-based “Carolina Bays.” The origins are debated but they could have been formed by wind and water affecting the barren landscape left when the ocean receded. Sweet Bay and Loblolly Bay trees grow in these areas. There are also Clay-based Carolina Bays where the clay base holds water and hardwoods can’t thrive: the result is many wildflowers including all sorts of orchids. Many of the Bays have been drained for agriculture.
Native Americans used over 4000 plants for medicine and food. “Indian Pink” was used to treat intestinal worms, “Black Willow” which contains salicylic acid was chewed for pain, and “Blood Root” was used for dye as well as insect repellent. A distant cousin of Dr. Porcher, Francis Peyre Porcher (1823-95) was asked by the Confederate army to identify more than 400 of these same plants as a source of medicine for the soldiers, such as “Marion’s Weed”, a substitute for quinine used by Francis Marion in the Revolutionary War. Another was “Longleaf pine” which was boiled and used as an astringent to treat dysentery.
There were three kinds of Native American shell deposits: rings, mounds and middens. They would live on a hummock in rivers and toss the oyster shells around them. There are 25 middens along our coast and maritime shell forests have grown on them, deciduous forests in a generally evergreen region. The Native Americans used rare plants on these middens for dye and food, such as “Indian Midden Morning Glory” whose tubers are edible. Another plant most likely introduced by the Natives was trillium, as it is only dispersed by ants, who could not swim to the middens. These plants were also used in traditional black medicine, such as “Rabbit Tobacco”, used for toothache, cramps, etc.
St. Johns Parrish in Berkely County, which was flooded when Lake Moultrie was formed, was the home of four very famous botanists. Thomas Walter (1740-89) came from England and was the author of Flora Caoliniana, published in 1788 and introducing 88 plants new to science. Every young botanist makes a pilgrimage to his grave if he can. Henry Ravenel (1814-1887), and a great uncle of our speaker, had many plants named in his honor. Francis Porcher was the botanist called by the Confederacy for help with native medicinal plants to treat the army. With his entertaining and interesting talk, and his research, authorship, teaching and mentoring career, Dr. Richard Porcher certainly carries on a distinguished tradition of scholarship.
On Monday, January 11, the Kiawah Island Garden Club learned from Tom Wise, of Johns Island Orchids, how to have more success with our orchids at home. Tom began dividing and selling the “babies” of his orchids 20 years ago and has been a judge for the American Orchid Society since 2011. His greenhouse on River Road is open by appointment. He gave us 7 tips, and a great, entertaining education.
To be a better grower, learn more about your orchids. There are 22-27,000 species of orchids, the second largest group in the world, behind grasses. They grow on every continent except Antarctica, but primarily in the tropics. The richest area, in diversity, is at the foot of the Himalayas in India, Nepal and Bhutan. The characteristic which helps to identify an orchid is Bilateral Symmetry, as one side mirrors the other. There are two major growth habits: either sympodial, growing on a rhizome, or monopodial, where growth emerges from the top of a single stem. Most are epiphytes, growing on trees, usually in the tropics. Others are lithophytes, growing on rocks, with leaves like a succulent because they thrive in harsh, dry, sunny conditions. Still others are terrestrial, growing from a bulb in the ground if it’s too cold to grow on trees. Some, as those in Australia, have evolved to bloom better after an area burns, and there are wild orchids like that in the Francis Marion forest. Therefore you need to know which type you have, so that you know the proper potting mixture ( Epiphytes need loose media), whether they should be kept wet or dry (Lithotypes need to be kept dry), and if other growers say the orchid is easy or tough to grow.
Pay attention, as the old Chinese proverb says: “the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow”. Pick up and examine your plant, remove dead or dying leaves and weeds, and remove or spray for scale or mealy bugs (spray Bayer Advanced Rose and Flower Spray on the medium and the roots also). Overwatering is a common problem; do not let the roots stay wet, so examine the potting medium: take the orchid out of the pot, turn it upside down and make sure the medium is not decomposed. Orchids have a front and back, the leaves of an orchid in the forest will face the sun, so your plant should also. The leaves are angled towards one side.
Orchid roots need air, so repot if the leaves look dry (the roots have been overwatered and rotted!) You can test with a bamboo stake…….if it’s dry, still wait another day or so. Pot in fir bark, sphagnum moss plus sponge rock (Perlite), or Chilean or New Zealand large fibered sphagnum moss.
Try Cypress or Cedar mulch mixed with sponge rock, a loose airy mix. For Cattleyas use hardwood lump charcoal (not briquets!) as it mimics a tree. Use Nutricote, a slow release fertilizer, every 6-8 months. Osmocote will burn the orchids. Use Miracle Gro, at half or quarter strength: “weakly weekly”, and flush out with tap water every once in a while.
Choose your container wisely, with holes in the bottom, either plastic pots or, ideally, unglazed terracotta which wicks water away because orchids are tough and like to dry out quickly. Phalenopsis are monopodial and when you repot, coil the roots around and put them into the medium loosely. When the orchid has finished blooming, cut off the spike, take it out of an ornamental pot and let it get indirect sun to rejuvenate. Iif the leaves feel warm to the touch, it’s too much sun. Artificial light is fine but is not enough for cattlyeas. Do not use plastic net pots as it tears up the roots. Teak baskets are great for orchids which bloom from the bottom, such as Stanhopea. The baskets will rot and then you replace them.
Many orchids like to be mounted, as if on a tree, on cork, a teak plank, a tree fern plank, hickory bark or wild grapevines such as you find on the trees around here. Try mounting your difficult orchids: Dendrobiums, phalaenopsis, and some small Cattleyas. Attach them with zip ties and eventually the roots will attach themselves and you can remove the ties. Wire S hooks are good for Vandas.
Don’t stress if your orchid dies, it’s a plant, not a puppy. Sick orchids take a long time to heal and may never fully recover. They will attract insects and disease. Just try to learn from your mistakes, such as decayed roots from over watering. Growers have killed many orchids, and so you are not alone.
Orchid judges train for 6 years and promote good orchids and growing methods, and Tom Wise is doing just that. He recommends going on the American Orchid Society website, as well as the Internet Orchid Species Photo Encyclopedia. Or visit him at his greenhouses on River Road to learn from the master.
The Kiawah Island Garden Club had a wonderful meeting in October, learning all about Monarch butterflies from John W. (Billy) McCord, who worked for the Department of Natural Resources for 30 years. After he retired he began to work for them “part time” in 2010 and now spends many, many hours each week locating Monarchs, tagging and releasing them, then recording where they are next spotted. He mainly works on Folly Beach but also all around the area. He believes that many Monarchs which pass up and down the Eastern seaboard stay in our area or go no further south than Florida and Cuba. Western Monarchs winter in Monterey, CA and those from the Midwest and north, fly to Mexico. Mr. McCord asks people not to release butterflies at weddings, as they are usually Western and can spread diseases and mismatched genes with local butterflies.
A Monarch egg grows into a caterpillar in 3-4 days, which then lives 14 days before forming a chrysalis for 10 days and emerging as a butterfly. Monarchs can live 4-8 months if they winter over here, but usually it’s much shorter and you will see the great-grandchildren of this year’s butterflies in just one year. They fly north to breed. As the days shorten they begin to convert sugar to fat so they can cling to trees to “sleep” and survive cold temperatures.
There has been a 62% decline of Monarchs in the past 10 years as ethanol has caused the conversion of 24 million acres of grasslands to corn. Crops have been modified so they are not tilled under and milkweed and wildflowers have been killed off. In our area Red Bay has been killed by Laurel Wilt and Groundsell trees, which grow at the edge of marshes, have been cut down to improve human views. They are both favorite roosts for Monarchs. There are many plants we can use to feed Monarchs: in the Fall Seaside Goldenrod, Dune Camphorweed, Spotted Beebalm and Beach Blanket flower (Firewheel). In the Winter they feed on Dandelion, Henbit and Sow-thistle flower. Also Lantana (not white!), Viburnum, Loquat, Bottlebrush and annuals like Cosmos, old-style open face zinnias, and Mexican Sunflower. Gulf Coast Swallow-wort is a source of nectar in August and a host plant for the caterpillars in September. Pinewoods and Aquatic milkweed may grown here, and Tropical milkweed (Bloodflower) is great but may be invasive and must be pruned to the ground around Halloween so the female will not be confused by the winter growth and lay eggs out of season.
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On November 10th, the Kiawah Island Garden Club enjoyed a program by Randy Howie of Hyams Garden Center, about the variety of ferns which grow well in our area. He worked for years at Carolina Nursery before bringing his expertise to Hyams. He told us that there are varieties of ferns which are deer resistant, if only the deer would read the directions. Royal fern is one such variety and is a deciduous fern. Other deciduous ferns are Japanese Painted and Ostrich fern. An evergreen fern which flourishes here is Holly fern, which likes acidic soil and is easily fertilized with Hollytone. A good fertilizer for ferns is fish emulsion, which needs to be applied every two weeks. Osmocote releases slowly and can last for four months. The important part of any fertilizer is a high nitrogen level to promote leafy growth, as ferns don’t flower and our soil is naturally high in Phosphorus.
Randy introduced several unusual ferns which do well here. Peacock fern is a tough ground cover, thrives in shade and has a beautiful blue-green iridescence. Cotton Candy fern is a lovely compact fern for indoors, with tiny, fluffy leaves. Australian Tree fern can grow 10-12 feet tall outdoors. It is not deer proof but they don’t like it. Staghorn fern is an air plant with 18 varieties from Southeast Asia and thrives in our rain and humidity. If it’s grown under cover, misting is necessary.
One excellent deer repellent is Repellex pellets which contain Capsaicin and are put into the soil around plants; in three weeks the plants take on a bitter taste which lasts 15-18 months. Of course deer become used to any taste, so different repellents need to be introduced. Milorganite is another deer repellent and fertilizer.
If anyone wants to order a special fern, Monrovia will take orders online and send them directly to Hyams for pickup.
There are between 22,000 and 26,000 accepted species of orchids, and they grow on every continent except Antarctica. Most are tropical but the richest concentration is at the foot of the Himalayas. Some are epiphytes which grow on trees and get nutrients from rain and passing detritus. Others are lithophytes which grow on rocks. Still others are terrestrial which grow in the ground and these grow in cooler climates such as southwest Australia and are encouraged by wild fires. Slipper orchids have a lower lip (pouch). Characteristics of all orchids is their bilateral symmetry, the column of fused stamen and pistol, the waxy mass of pollen grains called the pollinium, and the lip.
The conditions for growing at home are: bright indirect light, air movement ( helped by a fan), and humidity. They may and should be moved outdoors when the temperature is over 50 degrees. Humidity trays help, or they can be grouped with other houseplants, which provides humidity.
Learn more about your orchids, from the Orchid Society or the internet such as the Orchid Source Form website. If you go into a forum, some of the lingo is: “noid” meaning no ID, because you’ve lost the tag; “dimp” which means died in my possession; “UFO”, the same as noid. A “keiko” is a baby orchid plantlet, as it’s the Hawaiian word for baby. There is also a program called Orchid Wiz.
Pay attention to your orchid. There’s an old Chinese saying, that “the best fertilizer is the gardener’s shadow”. Examine them often and move them around when you do. Remove weeds and dying leaves. Kill insects with Bayer Advanced Rose and Flower insect killer, which kills scale and mealy bugs. Spray on the roots as well as the leaves. Water when the pot feels light, don’t overwater!!
Orient the front of the orchid towards the light. You can tell because the leaves will tilt towards light. Growth begins at the rear and grows upward. The roots need air to prevent root rot. Repot at least every two years. Use fir bark or long-fibered Chilean sphagnum moss. Include perlite (sponge rock, volcanic glass.) Try Cyprus and Cedar mix mulch and lump charcoal (natural not briquettes).
Fertilize. Do not use Osmocote, rather use Nutracote which is very slow release, 6-8 months. You can use liquid Miracle Grow, always low in phosphorus, look for 15-5-15. It can be sprayed on (when the orchids are outside.)
Choose containers wisely. Plastic is fine but must have holes in the bottom and sides. You can use unglazed clay pots with holes in the side or bottom, as they wick moisture away from the potting medium. You can enlarge the hole in the bottom very carefully. Use tak baskets for orchids which bloom from the bottom. Don’t use plastic baskets as they don’t rot and the roots will be hard to remove when you want to move the orchids.
If having difficulty, try mounting your orchid, using tree bark or a teak plank. You want dry roots. Hickory bark or wild grapevine are good mounts. Wire “S” hooks are good for Vanda orchids, which you attach with cable ties, and add Spanish moss for humidity, but just a little.
Don’t stress out if your orchids die, even professionals kill orchids. Just move on and start again!
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