Horticulture

Native prairie grasses bred as colorful landscape plants, wildlife habitats

Posted on
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Carol Robacker and Melanie Harrison with bluestem grasses

Landscapers can soon add a bit of Georgia’s historical Piedmont and native prairies to their designs thanks to the creation of three new little bluestem perennial grasses, released through a University of Georgia and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnership.

Little bluestem grasses are native to North America and are a major component of the tallgrass prairie. They typically produce green to blue-green foliage. With names that conjure up thoughts of the ‘70s, the new little bluestem varieties are much more colorful than their traditional parents. ‘Cinnamon Girl’ has a red-burgundy glow, ‘Seasons in the Sun’ has a lavender glow and ‘Good Vibrations’ is a mix of colors: red-purple with green-yellow foliage.

The idea to breed the colorful grasses came from USDA scientist Melanie Harrison. Harrison curates more than 500 different species of grasses and safely cold stores them in the USDA Plant Genetic Resources Conservation Unit facility on the UGA campus in Griffin, Georgia. Most of these grasses will never be grown in home landscapes, but their genes may be used to breed specific characteristics into new grass varieties.

Looking at little bluestems day after day, Harrison began to notice ornamental characteristics.

“My job is to conserve close to 500 different species of grasses, so there’s a lot of variety,” she said. “I thought they were pretty, but I’m not a plant breeder, so I asked Carol (Robacker) what she thought.”

Planting a fall cover crop will benefit your spring garden

Posted on
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Crimson clover and rye

If you decide not to plant a fall garden, consider planting a cover crop to give your garden a neat appearance while helping to protect the soil from erosion.

Cover crops also add rich, organic nutrients when they are tilled in the spring. A combination cover crop of a small grain (wheat, rye or oats) mixed with a legume (clover or Austrian winter peas) works well. The small grain serves as a nurse and protects the slower germinating clover or peas.

Clover is a very small seed, so mixed with wheat, it takes a pound or less to cover the average garden. Clover must be inoculated if it is not inoculated when you buy it. Inoculation covers the seed in black, powdered bacteria that helps digest the seed coat and increases germination.

The best way to inoculate seed is to combine the seed and a bag of inoculant in a small bucket with a little soft drink. Hand-mix the seed, inoculant and soft drink so that the seed is thoroughly combined with the black powder and soft drink. Use just enough soft drink to help the bacteria stick to the seed. Next, mix in a few pounds of small grain, such as wheat, and spread the mixture with a hand spreader on a tilled garden.

New varieties provide a host of bloom colors, plant sizes

Posted on
Thursday, August 25, 2016
'Raspberry Profusion,' a cultivar that blooms heavily from May to September

Fall is the perfect time to admire blooming shrubs and trees. In many areas of the state, people take great pride in adorning their landscape with spectacular shrubs that exhibit color, shape and texture.

Some people would love to have a better-looking landscape, but are fearful of picking out the proper plants. By making careful selections, you can enhance your landscape and add showstoppers that create curb appeal.

It is essential to first take a good inventory of your existing landscape. Educate yourself on your landscape’s sunlight exposure, slope, drainage and soil type. All of these factors can have a huge effect on what you can successively grow. By nature, some plants prefer shade, while others thrive in full sun. Some plants adapt to either location. Some plants prefer moist environments, while others must have impeccable drainage to survive.

It is also important to pay attention to the mature size of the plants. There is nothing worse than placing a small, 1-gallon container plant in an area where there is no room for expansion, especially if the shrub will ultimately grow to a mature height and spread of 15 to 20 feet.

New generation of researchers helps peach growers and consumers

Posted on
Thursday, July 21, 2016
Dario Chavez with a pickup truck full of peaches

Two years into the job, University of Georgia peach specialist Dario Chavez is pleased with the development of his research program. The new research peach orchard in Griffin, Georgia, is filled with over 130 different peach tree varieties, several newly grafted potential varieties and a host of trees for irrigation and fertilization studies, all in an effort to help growers of the crop that gave Georgia its nickname — the “Peach State.”

In addition to the new orchard in Griffin, Chavez travels to Bryon, Georgia, to work with U.S. Department of Agriculture rootstock breeder Tom Beckman and to meet with Georgia peach growers. There are currently more than 10,000 acres of Georgia land devoted to growing peaches, and Georgia ranks third in U.S. production of the fruit.

“At the end of the day, the growers are comfortable with what they are doing,” Chavez said. “They are planting new orchards every year and it’s a stable production system. They are making money and supporting the economy.”

Chavez says Georgia peach growers offer a “really high quality” peach and are typically second- and third-generation farmers. “There’s a lot of tradition and a large knowledge base in growing Georgia peaches,” he said.