ShadyGardens Blog

December 22, 2013

Recycling at Home: Reuse your Fireplace Ashes

Filed under: ash, ashes, fireplace, garden, recycle, reuse, slug, snail, soil, test, uses — shadygardens @ 1:14 pm





I don’t know about you, but during the winter, I just cannot get warm without a fire! Every time I build a new fire however, something must be done with the ashes from the previous one. We try to recycle as much as we can, and I hate to waste anything, but what can we do with those wood ashes?





A great way to use them is to apply them to the garden. Before we do that, we must decide which garden area would benefit from wood ashes. Ashes from hardwood trees make great soil amendment for certain types of plants. They contain nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, and other elements that will promote bloom and strengthen roots on plants such as lilacs, rosemary, and peonies, as well as certain vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and collards. Don’t use ashes from charcoal fires or from treated lumber, because they contain chemicals that would be harmful to plants.



The addition of wood ashes can be of great help to you when growing plants that prefer ‘sweet’ soil, especially if your soil is very acidic. The wood ashes will sweeten the soil, making it less acidic. You must be careful where you deposit the wood ashes, because plants like blueberries, camellias, azaleas, and rhododendrons all need acid soil, and will perish if you apply wood ashes around them.






To find out what kind of soil you have, for a small fee you can take a soil sample to your local County Extension Service for evaluation. They’ll have to send it off for testing, and for more information, follow this link: Soil Testing or just call your local county extension office.



Also, as with most fertilizers, a little wood ash goes a long way. Apply no more than 20 pounds per 1000 square feet per year. Plus, wood ashes should never be applied too close to tender roots of newly planted seedlings, so it’s best to apply them to the soil well in advance of planting time. (Fall would be great!) Wood ashes are also beneficial to lawns if applied very sparingly and watered in well.

In addition to soil benefits, wood ashes make a good natural slug repellent—just encircle the vulnerable plant with a ring of ashes and the snail/slug will not cross the line.  Since ashes won’t be as plentiful next summer when snails are munching, you might want to save some for later in a galvanized bucket.

October 17, 2010

Georgia Drought is an Annual Event–What Can You Do About It?

Filed under: drought, dry, native, plant, soil, Water — shadygardens @ 2:37 am
Delosperma nubigenum
As our climate here in Georgia becomes more hot and dry, it is important to make wise choices when considering plants for the garden. Inadequate rainfall again this summer caused many of our newly planted garden additions to die. 
If you don’t want to be faced with those same results again every single year, consider plants that actually enjoy hot, dry growing conditions. My husband jokingly states that we live in the ‘Desert Southeast.’ Well, there really seems to be a lot of truth to that new nickname, so we’ve added several plants to our garden that originate in the desert southwestern US. Plants from that region are accustomed to hot, dry climates with poor soil, and most will adapt well to our climate here. 
Southwestern native plants need well-drained soil, though, and for the most part, Georgia soil is heavy clay. Some soil improvements will be necessary to help those plants survive here. 
Now, bear with me for a moment–I know you’re thinking I’m about to suggest you install a cactus garden, but I’m not. Most of the time when we think of the gardens of Arizona, we think only of cactus and yucca, but there’s more out there than that. I’ve compiled a list of garden worthy plants that deserve consideration for Georgia gardens, along with photos to show you how beautiful they are. By the way, some of these recommendations are actually native to the Southeast!
    Delosperma cooperi
  • Delosperma comes in several varieties with different foliage and bloom color, but my favorite Ice Plants are cooperi and nubigenum. Delosperma cooperi has rather large purple flowers resembling asters on a ground-hugging succulent plant. Delosperma nubigenum (shown in the top photo) has sunny yellow flowers resembling daisies on a very low-growing succulent with jelly-bean shaped leaves that turn red with the onset of cold weather.
  • Gaillardia: Blanket Flower
  • Gaillardia, often referred to as Blanket Flower or Indian Blanket, has blooms all summer long that, as the nickname implies, have all the colors of an Indian Blanket. The blooms are quite large and bright, visible from a distance, making this plant ideal for roadside gardens. Some even have ruffly or double petals!
  • Rudbeckia (Black eyed Susan) and Echinacea (Coneflower) are probably already in your garden, but seek out some of the new colors which are hard to find but unusually beautiful.
  • Pink Muhly Grass
  • Ornamental grasses will provide movement in the garden as well as foliage contrast. The blooms which are usually in the form of a plume or seed head offer additional beauty at the end of the season and also food for some of our native birds! An unusual native grass we grow in our garden, Muhlenbergia capillaris or Pink Muhly Grass, goes unnoticed all year until September when billows of pink cotton candy appear above the foliage–simply spectacular!
  • Bulbs tend to be more drought tolerant, so if a native plant forms a bulb, you can usually count on it surviving a drought and returning when more favorable conditions return. One of my favorites is a California native plant, Dichelostemma, commonly referred to as Firecracker plant. This plant is available in either red or pink blooms and likes dry summers! Other drought-tolerant native bulbs are Solomon’s Seal and Rain Lilies. Zephyranthes candida sends up lovely white blooms usually right after a good rain shower, which is the reason for its common name.
  • Amsonia is a native perennial that really looks like a grass to me. In early summer blue flowers are lovely, but in my opinion this plant is most beautiful in fall when the foliage turns the brightest of gold.
  • Baptisia also has many seasons of beauty–soft blue-tinted foliage appears in spring, vivid blue flowers are next, then large seed capsules that turn black in late summer. Wow!
  • Crossvine: Bignonia capreolata
  • Vines are needed in every garden for that vertical interest, and my absolute favorite of all is the very drought tolerant Cross Vine, Bignonia capreolata. Not to be confused with the also beautiful Trumpet Vine which can be invasive if not controlled, the Cross Vine is much easier to manage. And instead of just plain orange blooms, Bignonia has blooms that resemble a flame–yellow, orange, and pinkish red all on the same flower! Shaped like a trumpet, the blooms are a favorite of the hummingbirds here.
  • I wouldn’t be discussing native plants if I didn’t mention my very favorite native tree, the Red Buckeye. Unlike other buckeyes, the Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia, grows well in dry soil. The huge red bloom panicles appear in very early spring even before the leaves, and provide food for the hummingbirds just as they are returning from their winter vacation.
    Red Buckeye: Aesculus pavia

    These plants tolerate our winters as well as our hot, humid summers, as long as the soil is well-drained. So as you plan for new additions to your garden this year, remember there will always be a summer drought and plant some of our beautiful native American plants that are even more accustomed to the heat than we are!

October 15, 2009

Climate Change: What Can You Do About It?

Climate change–there’s a lot of talk about climate change these days. And there are many skeptics out there. I’m not a scientist, and in this post I will not pretend to know a lot of facts to either promote or disprove the idea of global warming.
I will say this: we’re having some crazy weather! Two and three years ago, Georgia was under a severe drought. Farmers lost their livelihood, garden centers went out of business, and I personally lost most of my bigleaf hydrangeas–shrubs that had been established for several years. Record breaking heat waves and no rain for several weeks at a time is more than many shrubs can tolerate.
This year, on the other hand, Georgia has had more rain than we want! Severe flood damage occurred just a few weeks ago and threatens us again. (Actually, prior to the drought we had a few years ago, we received too much rain. I remember we received so much rain that area creeks and the Chattahoochee River swelled, washing away roads and bridges.) Yes, it’s a fact–Weather patterns do change.
And it’s that thought that brings me to my favorite topic: native plants! I’ve written many posts advocating the use of native plants. If you’ve followed my writings for long, you know that I love native plants for their tolerance to adverse weather conditions including excessive heat, humidity, and drought.
It is for Blog Action Day that I write my thoughts today. Whether you believe our climate is really changing or not, and whether or not you believe Global Warming is a fact or a myth, the right thing for you and me to do is whatever we can to protect our environment. We must protect the environment for our children and for our grandchildren.
These are simple suggestions, and this is what we do here at Shady Gardens:
  • Plant native plants instead of invasive exotics. In a nutshell, native plants will survive drought causing you to use less water when watering plants is restricted. Please read my previous posts on this topic.
  • Use organic pest control methods instead of poisons which can kill more than just the pest you wish to remove. Biological insect control can be something as simple as attracting ladybugs into the garden. ‘No kill’ rodent traps are available providing good results without the use of dangerous chemicals.
  • Use organic fertilizers instead of synthetic ones. Chemical fertilizers can be poisonous, and they really are junk food for the plants. Compost and other organic soil amendments make plants healthier and stronger. Some organic fertilizers like compost tea even help to ward off plant disease.
We are stewards of this great country we live in: caretakers of all that is around us. As gardeners, we must do our part to protect and preserve nature. I hope you will join me in planting native plants that provide homes, habitat, and food for wildlife. And then do nothing to poison the little creatures!
As always, I welcome any questions or comments.

September 7, 2009

Green Gardening

Going green in the garden is becoming more and more important to us as we learn additional dangers of pesticide use. To grow a good garden, we must preserve the life in the soil. Healthy soil is full of microorganisms which help to grow more vigorous plants. Too much fertilizer can kill microorganisms. To grow healthy plants, whether your passion is food crops or beautiful ornamentals, you must build up the soil.
  • Add compost–composted manure contains much more beneficial microorganisms than just regular compost.
  • Mulch with organic or plant based mulches (shredded bark or leaves).
  • Believe it or not, applications of horticultural molasses will feed the microorganisms.
  • Cornmeal added to the soil feeds a certain fungus that helps fight plant diseases. Isn’t that fascinating? Now I know what to do with that cornmeal I forgot about in the back of the cabinet.
  • While we are feeding our soil microorganisms, we must also remember to protect them.
  • Synthetic fertilizers harm the soil organisms and should be avoided.
  • Over tilling the soil breaks down the soil ecosystem, so add mulch instead. I know I mentioned mulch already, but application of good organic mulch is important enough to mention twice. Mulch attracts the soil critters like earthworms who will till the soil for you.

February 10, 2008

Drought Survival Tips

Filed under: drought, drought tolerant, dry, Georgia, plant, soil — shadygardens @ 2:13 pm

If you’re in the Southeast as we are, I know you’re thankful for the rain we’ve been receiving. I’m now encouraged and excited about the upcoming gardening season, and we’re again making plans about what to plant. The whole state of Georgia, as well as much of our country, sufferered tremendously from the drought last year. We’d be wise to plan ahead to be hit hard with it again this year. Currently I’m studying on what plants in our garden made it through the drought last year, and searching for new varieties of those to add this year. I’ll let you know in future posts what I find out!

As we dealt with the drought during the past few years, we’ve come upon a few tips for survival, and I thought I’d share them with you:

  • Conserve water every way you can. Save water for later use by leaving a bucket in the shower or fill buckets from leftover bath water to use for watering plants. Install a rain collection barrel to collect rain now while it’s plentiful.
  • Amend the soil with compost. Well-amended soil retains water better, and plant roots are better able to move freely through the soil to reach available water and nutrients, making for healthier plants ready to fight the drought.
  • Plant drought tolerant plants! If you must have some of the plants that are less able to cope with water shortages, plant them close together in a spot where you can easily water them with reclaimed water.
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch! Apply a thick layer–up to 4 inches thick–of a good organic mulch. Don’t use things like gravel unless you’re growing cactus. And it turns out that mulch made from recycled tires could be cancer-causing, according to a report from Environment and Human Health Inc http://www.ehhi.org/reports/turf/). Good organic mulch not only retains soil moisture and protects roots, but also breaks down in time, enriching the soil.

Remember to check back soon for my suggestions on drought tolerant plants for your Georgia garden.

February 3, 2008

Wood Ashes Lower Garden Soil Acidity

Filed under: acid, acidity, alkaline, ash, ashes, deterrant, garden, lilac, lilacs, peonies, peony, repellant, rosemary, sample, slug, snail, soil, Wood — shadygardens @ 2:08 pm

I don’t know about you, but during the winter, I just cannot get warm without a fire! Every time I build a new fire however, something must be done with the ashes from the previous one. Well, we try to recycle as much as we can, and I just abhor waste. What can we do with those wood ashes?

A great way to use them is to apply them to the garden. Before we do that, we must decide which garden area would benefit from wood ashes. Ashes from hardwood trees make great soil amendment for certain types of plants. They contain nutrients like phosphorus, potassium, and other elements that will promote bloom and strengthen roots on plants such as lilacs, rosemary, and peonies, as well as certain vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, and collards. Don’t use ashes from charcoal fires or from treated lumber, because they contain chemicals that would be harmful to plants.


The addition of wood ashes can be of great help to you when growing plants that prefer ‘sweet’ or alkaline soil, especially if your soil is very acidic. The wood ashes will sweeten the soil, making it less acidic. You must be careful where you deposit the wood ashes, because plants like blueberries, camellias, azaleas, and rhododendrons all need acid soil, and will perish if you apply wood ashes around them.


To find out what kind of soil you have, you can take a soil sample to your local County Extension Service for evaluation. They’ll have to send it off for testing, and for more information, go to:
http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/C896.htm or just call your local county extension office.


Also, as with most fertilizers, a little of the wood ashes goes a long way. Apply no more than 20 pounds per 1000 square feet per year.

Plus, wood ashes should never be applied too close to tender roots of newly planted seedlings, so it’s best to apply them to the soil well in advance of planting time. Wood ashes are also beneficial to lawns if applied very sparingly and watered in well.


In addition to soil benefits, wood ashes are a natural slug repellant—just encircle the vulnerable plant with a ring of ashes and the snail/slug will not cross the line! Since ashes won’t be as plentiful this summer when snails are munching, you might want to save some for later in a galvanized bucket.

January 14, 2008

January Ideas for Georgia Gardens

Filed under: compost, extension service, garden, Georgia, mailorder, old-fashioned, sample, seed, seeds, soil, source, test, testing — shadygardens @ 6:22 pm

Even in mid-winter, there are many things you can do in the garden to enjoy those sporadic warm days we often have during January and February here in Georgia. Any time is a great time to improve your soil, but now would be ideal since you probably aren’t doing much planting. Soil amendments can be anything from homemade compost, composted manure, mushroom compost, or purchased soil conditioner. Do you ever wish you had some of those old-fashioned plants like your grandmother used to grow? Well, now is also a great time to order seeds. Order seeds of Nicotiana, Cleome, and other summer flowering favorites now, so you’ll have them ready when it’s time to plant. There are many mailorder seed catalogs, but I have found seeds from the following to always be fresh and reliable:

Winter is also a good time to have your soil tested. Soil tests can be purchased at most home & garden stores, but a more accurate result can be obtained from your local county extension service. In addition to more detailed and reliable soil nutrition levels, the report from the extension service will tell you exactly what you need to add to make your soil better! For complete instructions on soil testing, you can view the online publication:

http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/C896.htm or just drop by your local County Extension Office to pick up a soil testing bag with instructions. You’ll be charged a small fee when you take your soil sample back to the office where it will be sent to your state university for testing.

However you decide to spend the rest of your winter, I hope you’ll enjoy those nice days and take a walk through your garden as you dream of how much more beautiful it will be this year with regular rain. (I’m optimistic!)

Blog at WordPress.com.