Texas Azalea

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Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in Plants | Posted on 22-02-2013

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Texas azaleaAzaleas have a reputation of being quite exacting plants in their growing requirements – yet few vistas can surpass a garden or a flower bed of azaleas in full bloom. And, well, rumor may be exaggerated sometimes.

While modern horticulture has created hundreds of variations of this spectacular and delicate shrub (each with different tolerance thresholds to the various conditions that characterize a given garden), there’s this one among them that is especially fit for our Texas gardens – for the simple reason that it’s native to our area.

The name of this beautiful lady is Texas azalea, and, if taken care of properly (which is not at all difficult, as we shall see in a moment), she’ll be embellishing your outdoors – with her dainty white flowers, her lush deep green foliage, her lemonish, slightly spicy fragrance, her discreet yet powerful presence – like few other plants can. Yes, you can call me a bit prejudiced here…

So, let’s get down to exploring a few facts about Texas azalea and its optimal growing conditions:

Texas azalea (rhododendron oblongifolium)

Soil
The natural habitat of Texas azalea is the sandy, organically enriched, slightly acidic (pH 4.5-6.0) soil that can be found in pine forests, wooded stream banks, and boggy areas. This is a light soil, unlike the heavy clay that abounds in several Texas areas and can cause root rot (indicated by yellowing, wilting foliage and collapse of the plant) – but that can be amended with proper preparation of the ground.

Incorporating peat moss, bark mulch (especially pine bark), and compost rich in leaves down to a depth of 12” will increase acidity of the ground and improve aeration, so much needed by the shallow root system of Texas azaleas. Constructing raised flower beds will work fine with these plants, although it’s not a sheer necessity, if preparation is done correctly. Another way to make pH levels more suitable is to add agricultural sulphur.

Texas azaleas don’t like limy, alkaline soil either, as it can lead to iron deficiency and, subsequently, to chlorosis, characterized by yellow leaves with distinct, dark green veins. However, there’s a number of ways to treat chlorosis such as:

  • applying copperas (iron sulphate), which is a soil acidifier and will allow iron to return to an available form;
  • applying granular iron to the soil; some gardeners simply drive iron nails or iron shards into the ground, waiting for them to rust and release the substance;
  • applying a foliar spray of an iron compound – this method will have much shorter residual action, though, and it must be repeated frequently.

Sun exposure
Texas azalea’s natural habitats are very telling of the kind of sunlight it prefers: partial sun or filtered light beneath trees with high limbs. This means that azaleas do not fare well in places that receive excessive amounts of our hot Texas sun, especially during the afternoon hours. Excessive exposure to sun will initially bleach the leaves (due to the deterioration of chlorophyll) and then burn them, with brown spots and edges appearing on the foliage.
On the other hand, complete shade invariably leads to lanky growth and to insufficient blooming. Plant your Texas azaleas in a spot that receives afternoon shade – the east or north side of your home are usually the best picks. Another advantage of optimal sunlight conditions is that they will help increase the plant’s hardiness to low temperatures.

Temperature
Texas azalea is generally spread in regions included in the USDA hardiness zones 7 to 9 – in other words, areas that manifest lowest temperatures of 0-25º F. It is also tolerant of high heat. The secret to always remember is to keep the plant’s “feet” cool, and this is accomplished by adequate mulching (2″-3″ deep).

Apply mulch in spring, just after the blooms fade. This will help lock moisture in the ground, and it will also protect the roots from summer heat. On the contrary, avoid mulching in fall, as this will hold heat in the soil, thus delaying the onset of dormancy and increasing the odds for winter damage.

Texas azalea

Watering
Texas azaleas love moisture, but need a well-drained soil to develop properly. Try planting them on a slope: besides seeing your shrubs thriving, you will have the additional advantage of preventing soil erosion.

Watering the azaleas is finding a delicate balance between keeping the ground moist, but not soggy, without letting it get too dry either. When the plant is new, check the soil around it every day to ensure it is slightly damp. Mature plants need about 1″ of water per week during cool seasons, and more during hot summer spells, as azaleas have shallow root systems that dry out quickly. Curling, twisting, or drooping leaves are a certain sign of water deficiency.

Prefer watering deeply and infrequently rather than in regular small amounts. Apply mulch to prevent evaporation, and amend your soil with compost to improve texture and water holding or draining capacity. Avoid drip irrigation, as it will benefit only a very restricted area of the widely spread roots.

Texas azaleas also absorb water through the foliage, which means that you can water both roots and leaves. In this case, prefer to water early in the morning in order to avoid leaving moisture on the leaves, thus preventing the onset of fungal diseases.

Pruning
The best season for pruning Texas azaleas is during the first two to three weeks after flowering is finished, and definitely before budding begins around late July. Any pruning that takes place after that point must be done with major attention, as it will affect the overall shape of the plant and the flowers of the following blooming season.

Don’t be afraid of performing minor shaping of your plants throughout the growing season; this will help the shrub maintain its fullness and compact shape. Just pay close attention and be very selective with your cuts after budding, as they will significantly impact the display of flowers for the following season.

Texas azaleas are deciduous shrubs, meaning that during winter (and until March) they are dormant and leafless; this makes it also a good time to prune – always keeping in mind the above cutting restrictions.

Fertilization
The best time to fertilize Texas azalea is in spring, right after the blooms fade and the shrub is pruned. Use a slow-release, acidic fertilizer such as cottonseed meal or commercial azalea-camellia-gardenia dry fertilizer, applying it evenly around the roots. Fertilizing in a concentrated area will most probably cause fertilizer burn. At any rate, avoid lawn fertilizers; they are too high in nitrogen and they may burn or even kill the shrub.

Never fertilize late in the growing season, like after budding (July) or in the fall, as this can cause tender new growth to develop right before winter — with its chances of severe frost — sets in.

Texas azalea flowers


Other Considerations

A Texas azalea in full growth can reach up to 6 ft in height and 3 ft in width. Be sure to provide 36” to 48” spacing when planting your azaleas, thus leaving adequate room for the shrub to develop.

As mentioned above, Texas azalea has a shallow root system —the roots tend to spread horizontally near the surface rather than drive deep into the ground. When planting Texas azaleas, perform 2-3 vertical cuts in the root ball, so as to help the roots spread apart. In the opposite case, the plant won’t be able to hold fast on the ground, and the plant will be severely under-achieving in growth and appearance.

The family of Rhododendrons, to which Texas azalea belongs, has leaves and flowers containing poisonous substances that are dangerous when ingested by humans and animals. What’s more, honey made from these flowers may also be toxic.

Native plants are generally pest and disease free, or they wouldn’t have survived and propagated in the regions where we see them thriving today. It’s a law of nature, and it’s called adaptation. This doesn’t mean that these plants are plastic and invulnerable to natural enemies, pests, and diseases – and Texas azalea has its own share of this type of problems. One thing’s for sure, though: given the proper environmental and growing conditions, your native azalea shrubs will fare much better than rumor has it.

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Photo credits:
– Clarence A. Rechenthin @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
– treegrow in Flickr

 

Basic Principles of Landscape Design

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Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 07-02-2013

principles of landscapingLandscape design is based on the understanding of how the various shapes can be combined. The best way to draw a landscaping plan is to view it as a series of abstract shapes that will take on a more practical form after the final synthesis of the organic and inorganic materials that comprise a garden: soil, plants, water, bricks, stones, etc.

A balanced garden should convey harmony of all the materials involved and create a smooth sensation to the eye. Abrupt changes, sharp separations of its various sections must be avoided – with the exception of the area dedicated to growing vegetables, which must be isolated.

On the other hand, we may wish to make a specific spot or feature stand out from its environment, and this we can accomplish by using contrast.

There are various methods of creating contrast in a garden, namely:

Shapes

Lines give a sense of continuity within a given space. As they unfold through areas of various uses, our eye must be able to follow along without generating a feeling of disconnectedness. Paths, pavements, corners, flower beds’ or leisure areas’ boundaries, walls, frames – all these are horizontal or vertical lines that guide our attention to a certain spot and determine the ‘flow’ of a garden.

When drawing a pavement, for example, we should consider it as something more than a hard surface to walk on: a border made of a natural material, such as an edging strip of colorful bushes or an architectural feature to either side, will generate a lively sense of direction in a landscape design.

This sense of direction can also be created by sequence, i.e. the repetitive use of elements that produces an optical rhythm, thus directing the eye along a line — whether this line is straight, curved, or a diagonal.

The ultimate goal of using direction is to grasp the visitor’s attention and to lead it with accuracy to a few select, predetermined spots. A successful landscape design will display a series of images under a desired perspective: visitors will notice the various elements of the garden (whether plants or decorative items) in a specific order while touring the area.

In the instance when our garden space does not allow for the creation of long, open lines and of multiple points of reference without making them look rather congested and jumbled, garden design is made much simpler. In this case, we will designate one to two reference points (in direct relation with the size and the shape of our garden or backyard), and then we will enhance the desired effect by a well-chosen, personal style of planting. Urban gardens, with their restricted space, are the ones most frequently affected by this specific problem.

Color

Color is by no means a separate element, independent from all other considerations; it rather functions as a means of complementing the entire plan of the garden.

Plant color selection may be based on the colors of hard materials used in the garden: that of a fence or of a wall standing behind a series of bushes or trees; of the material with which the house is built; of your own favorite range of colors. The house’s interior may very well set the standard for the colors to be used outdoors, as well as for the color and type of paving, for the style and kind of the pots you will use, etc.

The size of our garden plays an important role to color selection: vivid, intense colors, applied over a large area, will definitely have the effect of making that area look smaller in size.

One more thing to take into consideration when it comes to color is light. Light intensity differs greatly from place to place. In general, intense light makes colors more clear and sharp, and we can recall this from our school days, when we learned that “color is light” and that light influences to a great extent the way we perceive color.

Finally, seasonal changes are another factor in selecting the right colors, as there seems to exist a sort of “cycle” in the way they alternate (at least, in moderate climates). Cream or light yellows mostly appear at the beginning of the year; blues pop up in the summer; the fall is characterized by warm orange and copper hues.

Unity and harmony

Unity is accomplished when the transition from one section of the garden to another is smooth. Visually strong lines, the repetition of geometrical shapes and of dominant design elements, e.g. water, contribute to the unity of the landscape.

In order for us to create an aesthetically appealing effect, contrasts must follow some proportions: lack of proportion means lack of harmony in the design. There must also be a harmonious relationship between the various natural and structural elements, which should be related according to a specific scale.

An all-important factor to consider is time: when selecting plants, we must know how these will develop and which size they will finally reach, or their sheer volume will bring about aesthetical and practical problems.

In a small garden, a single handsome tree may function as a central focal point around which to set the rest of the composition. Finally, the use of a single hardscaping material can act as a factor that will link together the whole landscape.

Beware!
Unity and harmony are not evident during the initial stages of garden creation, when plants are not yet grown enough to cover the area and to soften up rigid lines and hard surfaces.

Balance

Balance does not necessarily mean symmetry. An asymmetrical composition may be well-balanced and agreeable to the eye.

Examples:

  • The volume, color, or form of a planted area may be taken as a measure for the creation of a visually equivalent area on the other side of a focal point.
  • A concentration of a certain color on one side may be counterbalanced by a larger and more spread-out mass of verdure.

 

Variety

A multicolored tree or bush protruding from amidst a green turf or an opening to a beautiful view can be pleasing and welcome surprises.

Variety in colors, shapes, textures or shadings makes a garden more interesting; nevertheless, caution is advised, as the excessive use of varied materials risks causing a feeling of dizziness and confusion.

 

These are the basic principles that will guide us in drawing our landscape design. Then, after elaborating on the details, we’ll start implementing it, bit by bit or all at once, depending on our garden space, our budget, and the time we can allot to gardening and landscaping.

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Photo Credit: Bogdan Migulski via Compfight cc

The Wonders of Hydromulching – What to Expect

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Posted by Julien Stern | Posted in landscaping | Posted on 04-02-2013

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sprayNot so many people instantly turn to Hydromulching when they need to fix a bare patch of dirt on their lawn.

Perhaps only a few people are aware of this great method of seeding and the numerous advantages.

What Is Hydromulching and How It Works

Hydromulching is simply the process of planting which involves spraying the ground with a soupy mixture of mulch. The mulch which is a mixture of water, seeds, fertilizer, coloring, and tackifier makes Hydromulching unique and effective.

Once the ground is sprayed on using a specially designed machine with a hose or a mounted gun, the result is an instant cover that conserves moisture and protects the surface of the ground from wind or rain.

Since the Hydromulch contains tackifier or binder which holds all the elements together, it can stay in place though exposed to a variety of weather conditions.

A little time is required to let the mulch dry before supplying water. And you do not need much.

Just a little amount of water is needed, just so that it stays damp long enough for the seeds to germinate. This hydromulch makes a perfect nursery for seeds.

After a couple of days, grass will start growing though it might not be visible at first. But if you look closely, you will see little hair-like things protruding through the mulch. Given a few more days, those tiny sprouts will have turned green.

This is when you add more water at night since the roots are about four times longer than what you see above the ground.

Preparing the soil prior to spraying is also an important thing to note. Loosen the soil or add a thin layer of soil so it would be easier for tiny grass roots to penetrate the ground and absorb moisture.This is also the perfect time to mix some slow release fertilizer to the soil.

These procedures will make a huge difference for the results both in the time it takes for the grass to grow and in the overall appearance of your lawn. In a few more days, your once unpleasant lawn will be covered with nice green grass your neighbors will envy.

If you have problem with erosion, Hydromulching is also a perfect solution. It is made to hold tight to very steep banks. Your Hydro Spray Grass operator will only need to adjust the mix to hold to just about any slope.

It’s surprising how well it holds onto steep banks during a heavy rain or even a storm. The top soil can be washed away but the hydro mulch will hold on remarkably well.

After about three days, the area will be festooned with young grass all over the slope with roots holding the bank in place making your erosion concern yesterday’s problem.