Saturday, December 27, 2014

Phlox paniculata

Common Names: garden phlox, summer phlox
Family: Acanthaceae (acanthus Family)

Garden phlox is an herbaceous perennial that returns consistently year after year from a thickened root stock. It gets as large as 4 ft (1.2 m) tall, with thin, finely toothed ovate or elliptic leaves 2-5 in (5-13 cm) long. The inflorescence is a large pyramidal cyme to 8 in (20 cm) across of salverform flowers, each about one inch (2.5 cm) across. (Cyme: a branched flower cluster; Salverform: a flower with a long tube that expands into flat petal-like lobes.) Phlox flowers have five lobes. The flowers are fragrant and their color varies from white to lavender in wild plants, with other colors available among the many named cultivars. Garden phlox has a long blooming period from early summer well into autumn.

The wild form of Phlox paniculata grows naturally in the eastern U.S. from Wisconsin and Ontario, west to Missouri and Arkansas and thence south to eastern Texas and central Georgia. This pretty native occurs sporadically on rich, moist soils along stream banks and in open woods. There are hundreds of cultivars hybridized and selected for flower color, size and fragrance.

Taller cultivars may have to be staked. Good ventilation helps prevent foliage diseases.
Light: Grow in full sun to partial shade.
Moisture: Garden phlox does best in fertile, moist but not soggy, soil. Garden phlox is susceptible to powdery mildew, so water in the morning so the foliage can dry out quickly, or better yet, just water the ground around the plant, and not the leaves.
Propagation: Garden phlox may be propagated by root cuttings or dividing the offshoots. Softwood stem cuttings (before flower buds form in spring) are easy to root.

Garden phlox is a very popular perennial for borders and beds. Its robust, upright habit, long blooming period, and colorful flowers ensure that it never goes unnoticed. Deadhead to encourage constant flowering. The wild species, Phlox paniculata, is seldom found in cultivation. However there are hundreds of cultivars to choose from, including those with white, pink, salmon, scarlet, purple and lavender flowers, and some with variegated foliage. Some get up to 4 ft (1.2 m) tall, and others stay under 2 ft (60 cm). 'David' is a white flowered form that is especially resistant to powdery mildew.

So many of our horticultural garden flowers are originally from the Old World, that it is nice to have the phloxes: true North American natives. Among the more than 70 species in the genus, at least 16 have been brought under cultivation. The group includes mat and cushion forming creepers suitable for rock gardens; delicate woodland herbs for shady naturalistic settings; dainty annuals for bedding; and robust perennials for borders and the cutting garden. Phlox drummondii is a colorful annual that is often planted (and grows there by itself!) along highways.

Garden Pond Maintenance

Some ponds are never cleaned and the ponds and its occupants survive very well. However, a large number of ponds are created with high fish densities or are built in locations were the pond receives a great deal of debris over the year. Even if you start out with just a few fish initially, in a healthy pond they will breed to the point that the number of fish will push the environmental limits of your pond and biofilter. The debris may be the result of leaves blowing into the pond, the die-back of vegetative pond plants as well as fish wastes. It is these latter types of conditions that will necessitate you cleaning the pond eventually. The two most likely time points for cleaning are in the fall, to reduce the amount of accumulated muck on the bottom of the pond as you head into winter, or in the spring to remove material accumulated over the winter from leaves blowing into the pond, accumulated fish waste or catkins and similar materials shed by trees as they leaf out. Cleaning in the fall reduces wastes in the bottom of the pond which may turn anaerobic if sufficient oxygen is not available, creating a breeding ground for harmful bacteria, or which may decompose, releasing ammonia and other dangerous chemicals that can be trapped under the ice. The build-up of these pollutants can lead to fish kills over the winter months. While keeping a hole in the ice over winter will help alleviate the accumulation of gases, cleaning the pond before winter sets in will reduce the overall potential for problems. Cleaning the pond in the spring may help reduce diseases and parasites that often occur as the pond and its biology warms up for the summer, as well as reduce the overall availability of nutrients that stimulate algae growth. The following are a few approaches that have been successfully used to clean the pond.

1. If the pond has a bottom drain periodic changes of water (typically 10% per week) have been used to evacuate the accumulated debris from the bottom of the pond. This simple approach minimizes the amount of material that is removed at any one time as well as adds water to the pond on a periodic basis. Care must be taken when adding water to be sure that you have minimized the addition of chlorine and chloramines typically present in many municipal water supplies. This can be done either by pre-treating the water with dechlorination agents or by using a whole-house water filter with an activated carbon cartridge.

2. Using a net such as used in swimming pools is helpful for cleaning out large materials that have settled to the bottom of the pond. However, if there is a very large amount of debris in the pond you should be careful to either remove the fish or use supplemental aeration to avoid creating significant oxygen deprivation due to stirring up anaerobic or large amounts of oxygen-consuming muck. If you notice a rotten egg smell this indicates the presence of hydrogen sulfide. You should immediately stop stirring up the bottom and get the fish out of the water as soon as possible before continuing with the cleaning.

3. You can use a variety of devices for vacuuming the bottom of the pond. Some of these use a garden hose to create a suction through a venturi device. The potential problem with these devices is that the pond may fill up with too much water during a prolonged vacuuming and you may have a potential problem of adding chlorine and chloramines to your pond if you do not pretreat the water. Wet/dry shop vacs, specially those with an attachment for a garden hose to provide a continuous drain, have also been used. These devices may drain a large amount of water from the pond in a short time and therefore it is necessary to either replace the water or use the garden hose to add the water back into the pond through the biofilter. Care must be exercised in reintroducing water taken from the bottom of the pond in that it may be depleted of oxygen as well as have very high suspended sediment levels that may create problems for the fish. A third approach is to use a pump capable of handling a moderate level of solids (such as a sump pump) to pull water from the bottom of the pond and pass it through a device to strain out the majority of the solids and then recirculate the water back into the pond. Filtering materials such as old sweaters, panty hose, etc. have all been used with some success in this approach.
In any of these approaches, if using an electrically powered device running on house voltage make sure that you have it plugged into a GFI protected circuit for your own safety. 

Your Garden’s Soil pH Matters

To ensure that your garden crops make the most of the rich, organic soil you create, you need to understand your soil’s pH. The pH describes the relative acidity or alkalinity of your soil’s makeup, and it has important implications for plant health and growth. Soil pH impacts beneficial fungi and bacteria in the soil and influences whether essential minerals are available for uptake by plant roots.

What Is Soil pH?

A solution’s pH is a numerical rating of its acidity or alkalinity. All pH is measured on a logarithmic scale from zero (most acidic) to 14 (most alkaline, or basic); 7.0 is neutral. The pH scale is used by chemists to measure the concentration of reactive hydrogen ions (H+) in a solution.

Most food crops prefer a pH of 6.0 to 6.5, but you can have a productive food garden as long as your pH is about 5.5 to 7.5 (see chart in slideshow). A difference of just 0.5 may not seem like much, but the pH scale is logarithmic, which means, for example, a pH of 7.0 is actually 10 times less acidic than a pH of 6.0. Potatoes and most berries, which grow best in more acidic soil, are the main exceptions to the average preferred pH range.

A soil’s pH results from interactions among native rocks, plants and weather conditions over many years, and it varies with climate and physical surroundings. In moist climates that support dense forests, such as those east of the Mississippi River and along the Pacific Coast, soil tends to be acidic, with pH ratings usually between 4.0 and 5.5. The grasslands of the comparatively dry Midwest often have slightly acidic soil (6.0 to 6.5), while most arid regions, such as the Rocky Mountains, are dominated by alkaline soil (7.0 to 7.8). Local differences in rock can cause huge variations within these general patterns, however — for example, when weathered limestone creates alkaline patches in otherwise acidic landscapes, or when elevation leads to more or less rainfall. Plus, soil is often severely disturbed during construction, and sometimes native topsoil is completely lost.

Some synthetic chemical fertilizers — mainly those high in ammonium or sulfur — can make soil more acidic, as can tillage methods that reduce soil’s levels of organic matter. Acid rain caused by air pollution from coal combustion began to acidify streams and soil during the late 1800s, and continues to push soil in some regions into the acidic range every time it rains. In addition to outside influences, some types of organic matter, such as peat moss and pine needles, acidify naturally during decomposition.

Alkaline soil occurs naturally in places where soil is formed from limestone or other calcium-rich minerals, and high water-evaporation rates common in arid climates aggravate the problem by loading the topsoil with accumulated salts. Many garden plants can still thrive when grown in alkaline soil that has been generously enriched with organic matter, which also improves the soil’s ability to retain water. Mulches also will slow the buildup of salts in plants’ root zones by reducing the amount of surface evaporation.