The Block Island Times
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Gardening Times: A new Wave of petunia

Jul 04, 2013
Photo by: Fred Nelson The Nelson’s Kwanzan double-flowering cherry blossom tree, seen blooming a few weeks back.

Just as my column of May 24 reached the stands, I received some copies of Greenhouse Product News from my grandson, Dustyn, who is a senior at the University of Connecticut. He’s following his grandfather’s interest in horticulture. This is a professional magazine featuring articles relating to the floriculture industry from A to Z. While I had just relayed that the Wave category of petunia appeared to be the petunia of the future due to its compact growth, prolific flowering, no need for deadheading and extended flowering period, there were a couple of articles that showed the intensity of breeding in the horticultural world.

Not only were there articles touting the features of the Wave, but now there is also a series of petunia called Supertunia and Crazytunia. Supertunia is similar in growth characteristics to the Wave petunia, and to the casual observer one probably couldn’t tell the difference between the two. The Crazytunia is different in that it has some spectacular bicolor combinations along with different petal formations. So, as I predicted, it appears that the petunia may well become one of the predominant bedding and container plants of the future, especially for sunny locations. The characteristics that I have described lend themselves well for a colorful exhibition, with little care other than faithful watering as needed and an occasional feeding.

In past years I have noted the long, attractive flowering period of the perennial, Gaura lindheimeri. Gaura is often referred to as Whirling Butterflies since the small flowers, on thin flower stalks, blow about similar to small butterflies. This plant grows to the height of up to three feet. It flowers proficiently from early summer to killing frost in the fall and will grow well in sun or partial shade. Our plant receives morning sun and then shade for the rest of the day. Now the floriculture industry has tampered with mother nature and produced a compact-growing series of the Gaura, called Bantam, with a mature height of 12 to 16 inches. Further, it has introduced a beautiful pink variety called Bantam Pink and Bantam White. This makes it considerably more useful in gardens as well as planters. One of the problems with new introductions is the ability or willingness of the floral producers to get new introductions into the market. One way to encourage acceptance of new material is to request it from your favorite retail outlet.

While reviewing the magazines mentioned above, I came across an article that outlined the sanitation procedures that a wholesale plant propagator in Costa Rica uses “to ensure healthy and clean stock.”

“Each greenhouse has a three-door entrance. Anyone entering the greenhouse must suit up into cloaks and aprons, and step into disinfectant upon entering and exiting. Hands must be washed and sanitized, followed by wearing latex gloves while within the greenhouses. Workers in the greenhouses use three knives, which are kept in the same type of disinfectant used when entering the house. When pinching plants, workers change knives between each plant so nothing carries over from plant to plant.” This procedure is just to take cuttings for the production of the finished plant. Many of us avid gardeners wonder why some plants seem to be so “expensive” when we go to purchase them.

We have a Kwanzan double flowering cherry tree that we planted some 15 years or so ago (pictured). This is the same variety as those cherry trees around the American Legion Park. It is a hardy tree and exhibits a dependable mound of double pink blossoms each year in mid to late May. When the petals started falling this spring, the wind aided in scattering the blossoms. Thus as we looked out at our lawn one morning it looked like we had a snowfall the previous night. If the blossoms had been heavier it might have been cause for concern that the grass might have been mulched over. However, the individual petals are quite light and within a couple of days there was little to show of the petal fall.

While there is always interest in maintaining a segment of the island’s “native” trees and shrubs, if you wish to have any flower color other than white, you pretty much have to choose to introduce ornamental specimens. In addition to the Kwanzan flowering cherry, one might consider Pink flowering Japanese dogwood (Cornus kousa), Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis), lilacs. Rhododendrons and azaleas come in a myriad of colors but the deer herd ravishes them if they are not fenced for the winter months. One winter, a deer forced its way through my fencing and devoured every leaf and flower bud on one of our rhododendrons.

Other color may be introduced by foliage color. A couple of choices here include purple or bronze leafed beech and a couple of forms of Japanese maple, particularly Acer palmatum dissectum ornatum. The foliage of this variety is called threadleaf because of its delicately-cut red leaves. In addition to the lacey foliage, this variety takes on an interesting dwarf growth habit with twists and turns of the trunk and branches. This rather small tree makes an outstanding specimen tree. Acer palmatum is more common and also has red foliage and grows taller than the dissectum variety.

“I appreciate the misunderstanding I have with Nature over my perennial border. I think it is a flower garden, she thinks it is a meadow lacking grass, and tries to correct the error.” — Sara Stein, My Weeds (1988)

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