Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Solanum quitoensis ( Naranjilla )
A straggly shrub, reaching a maximum size of 10 x 7 feet, that is native to South America, north to Costa Rica. It is most common in southern Columbia, Ecuador and Peru. Naranjilla plants are usually not spiny, except for clones originating in the mountains of Costa Rica which are spiny. They are rapid growing if given an abundance of fertilizer once a month. They prefer tropical highland climates with 60 + inches of rainfall in a year and average monthly temperatures from 63 to 66 F throughout the year. The Naranjilla does not like temperatures above 85 F and prefers light or partial shade on humus-rich, fertile, well drained soil though tolerating stony soil as well. They prefer a site where there are large trees to protect them from excessive wind but not close enough to compete with the roots.
The large, angular-lobed leaves, up to 20 inches in length, are bright green and sometimes tinted purple. The leaves and the stems are densely fine hairy.
It is grown for its attractive foliage outdoors during summer or in greenhouses in temperate climates but will not fruit there.
The fragrant, white flowers, up to 1.2 inches across, are borne in clusters.
They are followed by fruits, up to 1.5 ( 2.5 inches in spiny Costa Rica form ) inches across, that resemble the related Tomato. The fruits have leathery, orange skin and green flesh. The juicy, tasty ( lemony-pineapple tasting ) fruits can be eaten but only after the brown hairy coat is washed off and the calyx removed ( the calyx will usually naturally separate when ripened ). The fruit from commercially grown plants is usually harvested before fully ripened so that they last longer during shipping.
Fruiting begins at about 10 months of age when grown from seed. The Naranjilla will continue to bear fruit until 4 to 7 years of age depending upon growing conditions.
Healthy plants bear a maximum of 150 fruits in a year, typically closer to 100.
Everbearing in ideal climates, in Florida they mostly bear fruit only in winter.
Fruits picked when half ripened will store for about 8 days at normal room temperature, up to 2 months refridgerated at 45 F with approx. 80% humidity.
The fruit have many flat, hard seeds up to 0.12 inches across.
Hardy zones 10 to 12. For commercial production it is recommended to plant the Naranjulla in rows so that they are 6 to 8 feet apart. In the tropics it is recommended to plant them in their permanent position during a cloudy day at the start of the rainy season. In monsoon climates with a distinct dry season, irrigation to crops is essential during the dry season.

* photos taken on Aug 20 2011 @ Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD

* photo taken on Aug 25 2011 @ Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore, PA

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Water Saving Tips for Dry Climate Landscaping

- Use drought tolerant plants where summers are dry. Native plants are often an option however by careful - some plants even native to drought climates may not always be drought tolerant if they are found in the wild only along moist floodplain habitats. Non native plants from similar climates may also be used ( ex. southwestern Australia, Rome IT and Santiago CH have climates similar to Los Angeles CA.

- Install plants that need abundant water closest to the house where they
are easily watered, with xeric plants further out.

- Install landscape plants on a soil prepared at least to a foot deep with organic matter which works as a sponge absorbing and retaining moisture. A soil that is too shallow with hard pan clay or rock beneath will block downward penetration of roots making plants more drought tolerant. Soil used for lawns should also be tilled to 6 inches deep and mixed with topsoil or organic matter - lawns on topsoil that is too shallow will be a persistent yearly problem during dry summer weather and will require more water.

- Either forego lawns using xeric plants and stone mulch or use a drought tolerant grass such as Buffalo Grass or regionally adapted groundcover. Let lawns grow taller ( at least 3 inches ) during hot dry weather to cool and shade the soil - lawns cut too short will also be invaded and strangled by crabgrass which loves hot sunny weather. If you have a Fescue or Bluegrass lawn - apply a one time application of Milky Spore to protect the roots from grubs and do NOT use a high nitrogen fertilizer during hot or dry summer weather which can burn the plant. the west 60 % of water consumed is used on lawns, in the east where there is more natural rainfall, that number is still far too high at 30 %.
There is enough lawns in the U.S. to fill the entire state of Nebraska.

- Use a mulch at a depth of 2 to 3 inches deep to cool and shade the soil, prevent soil temperature fluctuations, preserve moisture and prevent weeds. In dry climates a stone mulch is preferable as it does not need to be replaced yearly and is not flammable. Plants that are mulched almost always grow faster than if they were not mulched. During the summer, organic mulch can reduce the surface soil temperature by up to 6 degrees, and raise it slightly at night. Also, while bare soil can loose up to 3/4 of rainfall to run off and evaporation during summer, mulched surfaces will retain most of that.

- Use rain barrels to capture rainfall runoff from the roof. Run off from contrete and blacktop areas can be directed into landscape beds ( road salt run off during winter may be a problem making this a bad idea in some areas ).
-Water established plants deeply but not too frequently to encourage a deep drought resistant root system. Plants watered too frequently will often become more shallow rooted and prone to damage if the water suddenly stops ( and of course most watering bans occur during severe drought ).

- Do NOT use high nitrogen fertilizer on plants suffering from drought.

- Use drought tolerant, fast growing trees to shade and cool the landscape, especially along south facing walls ( ex. Mesquite in the desert southwest, many species of Oak or southern Pine in the southeast ). Do NOT use trees with greedy roots such as Poplar, Willow and Maple if you plan to grow ornamental plants beneath.

- If there is a watering ban and some plants can't be watered, it may be better to cut them back rather than let them wilt or sustain severe damage or death - this especially applies to perennials where it is better to loose the flowers and a few leaves than the entire plant.

- Water new plants well for the first 2 years until they are well established. Early fall planting is recommended in mild climates so that the roots can settle in and the plant can become somewhat established before severe heat and drought arrives the following summer. Dust bonemeal in the planting hole at planting time to encourage root growth - ( exception is Proteaceae family plants native to Australia which absolutely hate bonemeal ). Caution: marginally hardy perennials and some broadleaf evergreens are better planted during spring but early enough that they do not immediately get hit with hot weather.

- Water plants well before first hard freeze if there is a drought or the plants are growing where natural rainfall may be blocked such as against a wall or under a overhang. Broadleaf evergreens that do not soak up enough water before ground freeze may be dead by the time spring comes, especially if on a site with frequent cold and drying winds. It is also recommended to wrap broadleaf evergreens planted on windy sites with burlap during the first winter.

- Make a saucer around young plants ( especially on slopes ) that you can fill up with water twice during a watering to ensure the plant actually does get the needed amount of water. Remove the saucer during periods of wet weather of you may instead be encouraging root rot.

- Install new plants at the correct depth, which is usually equal to the depth as they were in the pot. I have personally seen landscapers install plants 2 or 3 inches above ground so that the mulch is level - this is a horrible idea and will likely cost any landscaper that does this abundant money in replacing dead plants.

- Trees on stilts WTF?! When I see this I usually think the landscaper or homeowner was too lazy to dig a hole to the correct depth. They tree will also require more water if it even survives the first summer.

- If you can think of any additional water saving tips - leave your comment beneath.

Dry Is Beautiful!

* photo of unknown internet source


A genus of perennials that are part of the larger Commelinaceae family.

Pollia japonica
A rare, vigorous, rhizomatous perennial that will get many "what is this" questions. It reaches up to 3.3 x 4 feet, with tropical-looking foliage that resembled Ginger. It is native to most of southeast China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. It is usually found in wooded ravines at low elevations.
The oblong leaves, are up to 12 x 3 inches in size. The foliage is very glossy, deep green.
The white flowers, up to 0.3 inches across, are borne on loose panicles, up to 12 inches long, during early summer to early autumn.
They are followed by blue to black berries, up to 0.25 inches across, during early to mid autumn.
Hardy zones 4 to 8 in partial to full shade on moist to wet, well drained soil. Easy to grow. During the record hot summer of 2011 in Maryland, plants growing in the shade had more vigor and better foliage color. I have not noticed any pests or disease on any of the plants I've observed. Reported to be drought tolerant if grown in shade.
The root is know to have both sedative and stimulant properties.

* photo taken on 4th of July @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C.

* photos taken on Aug 20 2011 @ Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD

* photos taken on Aug 25 2011 @ Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore, PA

* photos taken on June 23 2013 @ U.S. National Arboretum, DC

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Aug 20 2011 Hike at Audubon Sanctuary, Montgomery Co, MD

Was on the prowl for a few record size trees on the Montgomery County Big Tree Register. Seen lots of wildlife too...

Other Travels


Brandwine Cemetary, 701 Delaware Ave., Wilmington
Numerous state champion trees of extreme age.

Buena Vista, New Castle
Numerous state champion trees of extreme age.

Hagley Mansion, Wilmington
Numerous state champion trees of extreme age.

Holy Cross Church, Dover
Numerous state champion trees of extreme age.

Ross Mansion, Seaford
Numerous state champion trees of extreme age.


Sunday, August 14, 2011


Among my favorite groundcovers, though needing some space, the Plumbago is guaranteed to give a long season of bloom followed by excellent fall color. They are also very easy to grow, rarely being bothered by pests or disease. During cold winters, Plumbago may died back to ground level. Do not worry, they will resprout vigorously during late spring and will bloom later the same summer. Plumbagos bloom on current seasons growth. Propagation is from softwood cuttings taken during mid summers. Clumps can also be divided during early spring.

Ceratostigma griffithii ( Griffith's Plumbago )
A low, dense mounding, evergreen shrub, that is native to warm valleys of Bhutan.
Some records include: 1 year - 3 x 3 feet; largest on record - 4.5 x 8 feet
The leaves, up to 3 x 1.5 inches, are mid green, turning to red in autumn.
The bright blue flowers are borne in terminal clusters during late summer and autumn.
Hardy zones 7 to 10 on well drained soil. Drought tolerant, even tolerating dry shade under pines.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides ( Groundcover Plumbago )
Also called Leadwort. Rapid growing, long lived, bushy and clump forming, perennia, reaching up to 20 inches x 7 ( rarely over 1 foot in height ) feet if not contained. It can spread up to 3 feet in 3 years and while well behaved on some sites; its rhizomes can become invasive on lighter moist soils. It has wiry stems and a woody base. Groundcover Plumbago is native to China and is highly valuable as a border plant, large scale groundcover and also looks great trailing over stone walls. Groundcover Plumbago looks great in front of Pennisetum grasses.
The foliage is deciduous to semi-evergreen in mild climates. The oval leaves, up to 4 x 2 ( usually half that ) inches in size, are glossy mid-green. They turn rich maroon red during late fall. Plumbago is late to appear during spring and can be mixed with spring bulbs, esp Crocus's.
The tubular, brilliant light blue flowers, up to 0.8 inches in length are borne from July to October. Plumbago looks awesome planted with Moonbeam Coreopsis.
It can be propagated from suckers or by dividing clumps during early spring. Hardy from zones 6 to 9 ( zone 5 against a warm south facing wall if protected in winter, preferrably with Pine Mulch ) in full sun to partial shade on moist, well drained soil. It should be cut to ground in March before new growth begins. Disease free, deer resistant and very heat tolerant but does not like winter wetness.

* photos taken on summer 2006 in Howard County, MD

* photos taken on 4th of July 2010 @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C.

* photos taken on July 17 2010 @ Morris Arboretum, Philly, PA

* photos taken on Aug 20 2011 @ Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, MD

* photos taken on Sep 17 2015 in Columbia, MD

* photos taken on Sep 1 2018 in Columbia, MD

* photos taken on Aug 27 2019 in Columbia, MD

* photo taken on Aug 7 2020 in Columbia, MD

* photo taken on Sep 2 2020 in Columbia, MD

* photo taken on Aug 26 2021 in Columbia, MD

* photo taken on July 2 2023 in Columbia, MD

* photos taken on Nov 11 2023 in Columbia, MD

Ceratostigma willmottianum ( Chinese Plumbago )
A fast growing, open low deciduous shrub, that is native to Tibet and western China. Some records include: largest on record - 6.5 x 6 ( usually much lower ) feet. It can be a rhizomatous spreader. In very cold climates it may act more like a perennial, in mild climates it can be cut to near ground level during early spring and treated as a perennial for more attractive denser habit.
The bristly, pointed oval to elliptical leaves, up to 2 x 1 inches, are medium green turning to red in autumn.
The rich mid blue, tubular flowers are borne all summer and long into fall.
Hardy zones 6 to 10 in full sun to partial shade on just about any moist, fertile, well drained soil. Tolerates drought but prefers moister conditions.
In colder parts of its range, it may die back to the ground during the winter, cut back hard during early spring and it will regrow rapidly.
Propagate from softwood cuttings taken during summer.

* photos taken by Milan Havlis ( )

'Desert Skies'
Attractive yellow foliage contrasts well with the blue flowers.

* photo taken on 4th of July 2010 @ U.S. National Arboretum, D.C.

'Forest Blue'
Deep blue flowers.

'My Love'
Moderate growing and compact habit, reaching up to 2 x 2 feet, with intense golden-yellow flowers contrasting with abundant mid-blue flowers during late summer. The foliage turns to bronze-red during autumn.

* photo taken on Sep 23 2013 in Burtonsville, MD