Monday, February 22, 2010

Certification Complete

Kari Whitley, Certified Arborist
International Society of Arboriculture
February 22, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Food for thought, thought for food (2)

"While it is true that many people simply can't afford to pay more for food, either in money or time or both, many more of us can. After all, just in the last decade or two we've somehow found the time in the day to spend several hours on the internet and the money in the budget not only to pay for broadband service, but to cover a second phone bill and a new monthly bill for television, formerly free. For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority."
-Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Americans now spend less than 10% of our disposable income on food, a percentage that is disproportionate with the rest of the world. While this may seem good, it is really a reflection of the quality and type of food we are buying. Watch this: Cost of Food

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A day in the life of a plant pathologist

Other than, "How tall are you?, " the question I get asked most is, "What is a plant pathologist?".

I guess that "plant pathologist" conjures up images of a person in a white lab coat dissecting a dead plant on a cold, metal table. A forensic pathologist....only for trees.

Most of the time, I'm not playing the role of a coroner (sometimes, though!) but rather studying the diseases and insects that interact with and affect the health of landscape plants. As a field plant pathologist, most of my time is spent at nurseries or in landscapes looking for signs and symptoms of fungi, bacteria, viruses and insects.

It is a lot like CSI most of the time. I have to asked a lot of questions to find out what happened prior to illness. How often was it watered? When was the last time it was fertilized? When did you notice it was in decline? Have you done anything to this plant recently?

A few weeks ago, I started seeing this on the Camellias at a few nurseries and in gardens:I had been told a few years ago by another pathologist that it was a virus called Camellia Ringspot Virus. Although the leaf spots look very viral, something about it didn't add up (you have to go with your gut a lot), so I took a second look when it appeared this winter.

The circular leaf spots occur on older foliage following cold weather. As soon as the new leaves emerge in the spring, these diseased leaves fall to the ground.

As it turns out, this ring-spotting is caused by a fungus. And this fungus overwinters on the infected leaves that fall to the ground beneath the Camellias. After a week or two on the ground, a large brown lesion will develop on the leaf.
If conditions are right, the fungus will sporulate and fruiting bodies will become evident on the leaves. This is an image of the fruiting bodies though a dissecting microscope:The black squiggly stuff is actually masses of spores that are being pushed out of the fruiting bodies. Plant pathologists call these spore tendrils. It's kind of like a really bad pimple.

When you look at these spore tendrils under a microscope the spores are visible.

This is how I am able to diagnose the disease that is affecting a plant- by the spores. Just like a flower is the definitive way to determine the species of a plant, spores are the way you determine the species of a fungus. In this case, Phyllosticta (the asexual phase of Guignardia).

Case closed!

And that's what a plant pathologist does (sort of). Wow, right?

If you are a bit geeky, this article has all the information you'll ever need: A New Leaf Spot Disease of Camellias caused by the Fungus Guignardia.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rare Charleston Snow

I awoke to this wonderland on Saturday. It was spectacular.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Birds & Squirrels

The Cedar Waxwings are back!!! I just saw a flock of them in my leafless River Birch (Betula nigra) by the creek. I hope they find the Yaupon Holly that's just outside my office window again this year. It was an amazing sight with all of those birds covering the tree. And loud!

It was this time last year that a Waxwing got intoxicated and passed out on my porch. I loved her.

Later today, when I went outside to see if they were still around, I saw that the squirrel is back into my bird food.In his defense, one of my feeders is just an old harrowing disk from a tractor that is nailed to the railing. The cardinals and some of the larger birds seem to prefer this to the feeder.

But dammit, bird seed is expensive and I'm not interested in feeding greedy squirrels!

So I went outside and dumped ground red pepper all over the seed again to keep him out of it.I did this for the first time last week and it works great. I watched from the window as the squirrel began to gorge on seeds (I'm pretty sure I was wringing my hands with anticipation as I did this). The heat from the pepper hit him all at once and he straightened up like he had been hit by lightning. Then he let out a yelp and scurried away in a zigzag was great.

Now I know you are thinking I am mean. But really it's no worse than eating some spicy buffalo wings to you or me.

As for the birds, they don't even notice. They don't have the neural receptors that recognize the heat from peppers. In fact, birds have co-evolved with peppers to eat the fruit and spread the seed! And if you don't want to use up your kitchen spices, you can always buy seed that is pre-coated with red pepper.

It's nicer than a pellet gun, right?

Stay warm!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Viburnum obovatum 'Reifler's Dwarf'

There a many reasons why we need to start looking at native plants as replacements for many of our standard landscape plants. From a pest pressure standpoint, natives are often more tolerant of indigenous insects and fungi because they have co-evolved with these pests. It stands to reason that a pest would not kill it's host because they want an ongoing source of food.

Birds and other animals have also co-evolved with these plants are are dependent upon these native species. The diversity of songbirds in natural areas far exceeds the populations in cultivated gardens dominated by exotic plants.

One of my new favorite native shrubs is Small-leaf Viburnum, Viburnum obovatum. Endemic to the coastal plain from South Carolina down to Florida and across to Alabama, this evergreen shrub is perfectly acclimated to our area.

The cultivar 'Reifler's Dwarf' is a small, rounded selection that would be a great substitute for Abelia, Indian Hawthorn or Japanese Hollies in the landscape. It grows to an ultimate height of 4-5' high and wide, but responds well to shearing.

Look at this greenhouse of perfect 'Reifler's Dwarf' Viburnums at Dudley Nursery:The flower buds are a deep rose pink and are formed in the late summer and fall. Around February, the buds open to reveal small white flowers that cover the entire plant. After flowering, purple-black fruit (that the birds happen to love) are formed.

It is like a Yaupon Holly with bigger flowers and a softer texture.

Should I list the attributes of this plant?
  • Small, rounded growth habit
  • Evergreen leaves
  • Multi-season interest (buds, flowers and fruit)
  • Native plant
  • Easily sheared
  • Bird attractant
  • New(ish) cultivar for an updated plant palette (are you as tired of Japanese Hollies and Indian Hawthorns as I am?)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Indian Hawthorn Choices

I hesitate to endorse an Indian Hawthorn (Raphiolepis indica). Whenever I declare a cultivar to be completely resistant to the dreaded Entomosporium Leaf Spot, I am proved wrong within a week or two.

But I've got my eye on a new cultivar call 'Spring Sonata.' Not only does it look great from a disease-resistance standpoint, but it the foliage is a soft blue-green. This selection, from the Southern Living plant collection, has white flowers in the early spring. Growing to a maximum size of about 5-feet high and wide, this plant is suitable for most gardens. Over the next year, I'm going to evaluate this plant in both the nursery and landscape to see if it is, in fact, a good replacement for 'Alba' and some of the other selections that dominate the market. ('Alba' is a good cultivar as long as you purchase disease-free plants, space them properly and keep the leaves dry.)
The only nursery I know in the area that is growing this cultivar is Parsons Nursery in Georgetown, South Carolina (wholesale only).

I've also got my eye on a couple of cultivars called 'Snow White' and 'Snow.' I've seen some beautiful 'Snow White' plants at Dudley Nursery in Thomson, Georgia and I am hopeful that they are going to perform as well.

I'll keep you posted,

Monday, February 1, 2010

Into the Mystic

I spent the weekend at my family's farmhouse in South Georgia (in a remote unincorporated town called Mystic) with my sister Kelley, cousin Lauren and aunt Maggie. It was a great girl's getaway, complete with bonfires, meals around the farmhouse table and red wine.

My sister, the Norwegian Princess, happens to be a talented photographer and she documented our weekend with her new camera. Here are a few of her images:

HORTICULTURAL NOTE: I was really excited to see the Red Maples (Acer rubrum) flowering. This is the Robin of the plant world- the harbinger of spring. Red Maples are one of the first native trees to flower each year and are a sign that winter won't last forever:

Upcoming Lectures

Those of you who know me know that there is nothing I love more than lecturing. It is exciting to talk about the up-and-coming cultivars, emerging plant pests and other horticultural topics. This week, I'll be speaking at two conferences in South Carolina. I'd love to see you there!


Seabrook Island, South Carolina

"The Impact of the South Carolina Nursery & Landscape Industry on the Spread of Invasive Plants"

February 2, 2010 8:45

A brief background on the nursery and landscape industry and our past role in the introduction and spread of invasive plants. The overview will discuss the impact of our industry and the steps we are taking to prevent future use of non-native invasive plants.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

"Phasing Out Non-Native Invasive Plants from Our Landscapes"

February 4, 2010 1:30-230
Each year in the United States, we suffer from over $100 billion in economic losses due to the impact of invasive species. Many plants that are commonly grown and used in the horticultural industry have a significant impact on the decline of native populations. This lecture is designed to identify the major invasive plant species in South Carolina and explain the environmental and economic impact of these plants. Non-invasive plants with similar growth habits and design characteristics will be discussed (both native and non-native) to provide landscape alternatives. In addition, this lecture will address ways to eradicate or prevent the spread of invasive plants landscapes and other natural areas.

A free copy of the book Non-Native Invasive Plants of Southern Forests: A Field Guide for Identification and Control (James Miller, U.S. Forest Service) will be given to each attendee.

"Installing and Maintaining Landscapes that Thrive"
February 6, 2010 9:00-10:00

Many problems can occur in a landscape each year-and it's frustrating when a lawn does not green up in the spring or when a plant suddenly dies. This talk will focus on how to identify problems in the landscape, when they usually happen and what to do when you see a problem. Focusing on plant diseases, insects and good horticultural practices, Kari will explain how to predict and prevent landscape mistakes.

For more information about upcoming lectures, visit my website, Scout Horticultural Consulting.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin