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June 13, 2015

Saturday Gardening Thread: Ahh... Magnolias! [Y-not and KT]


Good afternoon, gardening morons!

Today's thread is brought to you by Foghorn Leghorn:

KT's Local Gardening Update

"Now 'tis spring, and weeds are shallow-rooted;
Suffer them now and they'll o'er grow the garden."
William Shakespeare, Henry IV

This year it seems like an even better idea than usual to get rid of the weeds before summer. With our reduced watering schedule (twice a week watering allowed), the ground is getting hard. And we don't want weed seeds falling all over ground that we are not planting this year. Some of the lambs quarters already have some hefty roots, but lambs quarters are not the worst weeds in the world. We are tackling the Bermuda grass with Roundup. I think the weeds are winning in some spots.

Our moderate May weather is over. It got to 106 degrees on Monday. Then a dust-laden tropical storm came through with almost no rain, increasing the humidity. The weekly high matched the one for Phoenix - rare for this time of year. But it still cooled off at night here, more than in Phoenix. This makes a difference to many plants, including tomatoes. There have been some weather conditions in other parts of the country that pose even greater challenges to gardeners. Sometimes I am surprised that we keep at it. But we do. There must be a reason.

I conducted a personal taste-off between Cosmonaut Volkov and Big Beef tomatoes this week. Cosmonaut Volkov was great when the weather was more moderate. It was not nearly as good in this week's hot weather. It may be more suited to cooler climates. Or, it may be a tomato I should pick with green shoulders. This week's tomatoes may have been over-ripe. Big Beef, an old reliable hybrid with recognized heat tolerance, tasted sweet with lots of tomato flavor. Fruits were variable in size.

After tasting the contestant tomatoes plain and with salt, I ate the remaining tomato sections with cottage cheese. One of the first recipes we prepared in my high school cooking class was for tomato "flowers" stuffed with cottage cheese - flavored with salt and pepper, chopped scallions or chives, green bell pepper and MSG. I think the recipe was from a time in American history when many recipes included MSG, the new thing in flavor enhancement. The tomato "flower" looked something like this, but without the top whacked off the tomato. We also blanched and peeled our tomatoes. It was a cooking class, and our teacher was a perfectionist.

So far this season, I have picked fruits from 4 kinds of cherry tomatoes plus Cosmonaut Volkov, Sweet Tangerine, Jetsetter, Lemon Boy, Big Beef and Ponderheart. I am not sure the Ponderheart plant is healthy, and the tomato I picked was not first-rate. The plant was next to the Golden Girl plant that I removed because it looked like there was no hope for it. Either there is something unhealthy about the soil in that section of the row or there is a foliage virus on the loose.

The Burgundy plums are ripe. They are a sweet, firm Japanese plum that is red-purple all the way through. It will hang on the tree in good condition for several weeks. Burgundy is a good pollenizer for many early-blooming plums and Pluots. I still have some thinning to do on the later varieties.

Southern Magnolias

In last week's comments, Mike asked for our opinions on Magnolias. He got feedback on mold and mildew when this tree is planted too close to the house, plus some other good tips. I am pretty confident that, since Mike lives in Georgia, he was referring to Magnolia granidflora, named for its big, fragrant flowers. If any tree brings to mind "Southern", this one does.

Last week, Y-not wrote about two primitive kinds of plants: Ferns and Cycads, namely Sago Palms. Magnolias are less primitive than these, but they are among the oldest forms of flowering plants, appearing before bees existed. The flowers seem to have developed to encourage pollination by beetles. "As a result, the Carpels of Magnolia flowers are tough, to avoid damage by eating and crawling beetles." What we think of as "flower petals" are actually "tepals" on a magnolia.

They are survivors, and their flowers and fruits have an exotic look. Members of The Horde who are stuck inside because of weather events might enjoy studying some botanical illustrations of Magnolia grandiflora. Or, there is a beautiful series of photos showing the progression of bud to flower to fruit (or seed pod) to seeds here.

The plant family Annonaceae, which includes the pawpaw and the cherimoya, is related to magnolias. Pawpaws and cherimoyas are less primitive than magnolias. Cherimoya flowers are still hard for bees to pollinate, though.

Mark Twain called the cherimoya "the most delicious fruit known to men." I think a ripe cherimoya bears quite a resemblance to the immature fruit (seed pod) in the magnolia photo series linked above.

Alas, magnolia fruits are not edible. But pickled Magnolia grandiflora petals (tepals, that is) are considered to be an exquisite delicacy in parts of England. I'm not sure I trust their taste in condiments in "parts of England", even though the mustard from Cross and Blackwell Mustard Pickles can really liven up a cold roast beef sandwich. They have come up with some strange chutneys and other condiments in "parts of England". Remind me to tell you my mother's chutney story sometime.

If you want to try pickled magnolias, the Eat the Weeds guy suggests substituting magnolia petals (tepals) for the veggies in a good sweet-and-sour pickle recipe, then dicing small amounts to add to a salad, because the "flavor is strong". He says they taste a lot like the flowers smell. A piece of a leaf can also be used to flavor soups, just like a bay leaf, though the flavor will be different, slilghtly bitter.

Magnolia grandiflora is by far the most common magnolia in yards, gardens and old plantations in the South. It is also known as the Bull Bay. "Many broadleaved evergreen trees are known as bays for their resemblance to the leaves of the red bay (Persea borbonia), with this species known as the bull bay for its huge size or alternatively because cattle have been reported eating its leaves."

M. grandiflora is hardier than I thought is was. I don't know why I was surprised, since it has survived Climate Change several times -- including ice age conditions. New cultivars with better cold hardiness are constantly being developed. This video includes information on growing Magnolia grandiflora in Oklahoma:

It is also widely grown in California and Arizona because of its heat tolerance. In the West, magnolias may require special attention to leaching salts from the soil and to preventing deficiencies. The 2007 edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book lists 9 named cultivars (there are many more) with mature heights varying from 20 to 80 feet, some narrow and some broad. The typical time until to first bloom is also noted for each cultivar. Flower size is included - from 4 inches for "San Marino" to 10 - 14 inches for "Samuel Sommer".

Although the heavy, shallow roots of Magnolia grandiflora can lift pavement, "Majestic Beauty" is an approved street tree in Coronado, California. I don't know if it is easier on pavement than other cultivars, or if root restriction is required when it is planted near the street.


M. g. "Majestic Beauty" flower

If you want a tree you can walk under, it might be easier to train a tree grown from seed. However, it could take up to 15 years to start flowering. And the form of the tree may be variable from seed. The big, almost plastic-like leaves fall year-round, but most heavily in June and July in many climates. If the tree has been pruned up so you can walk under it, the effect can be messy.

Like Mike said last week, the big leaves are easy to rake, but on the other hand, somebody has to rake them. In our town, there are a few M. grandiflora specimens planted as street trees on government property, so there are people hired to clean up the leaves. The ones here are in bloom now. They are lovely. Busy Morons and Moronettes may not always have the same leaf-raking resources as a taxpayer-funded government agency.

It is probably more practical to buy a grafted tree, choosing a cultivar that fits your needs and allowing the low branches to stay on the tree to hide fallen leaves (and fruits). Allowing the leaves to remain under the tree also mulches the shallow roots of the tree. Mulching is recommended for young trees, too. The trees are not easily moved and they are hard to plant under, so choose their locations wisely.

If you are really confident that the roots will not damage your foundation and if you are not worried about mold and mildew, you could consider planting one of the smaller cultivars as a wall climber. I am not real wild about this idea, even in the colder parts of this magnolia's range. But if you want to try it, I recommend that you start training when the plant is young. There are some tricks to pruning this tree. Adapting natural plants to human habitations can be challenging.

Hope you get to see or smell something wonderful in a garden this week, or taste something wonderful from a garden.

Y-not: Thanks, KT!

I'll keep my own gardening report short.

My shrub roses have started blooming.


The bushes themselves had been pretty ragged last year, but the plants look really terrific this year. I returned to Fall pruning. I'm not sure if that's why they are looking so good or if it's simply all of the rain we've had this spring.

In the vegetable garden, my spinach never grew very well and now it has bolted. I have no idea why. My beets and radishes both look ragged. I think we had too much rain and not enough sun for them to get a good start. Very disappointing.

My arugula and snap peas are both doing well. Still waiting for the snap peas to bloom, but the plants look very healthy.

Best-performers are my herbs, which are now in their third year.

Speaking of herbs, this gadget for preserving herbs in the fridge hit my radar. Keeping herbs fresh once they've been picked is always a challenge. I haven't tried this gadget yet, but I'm tempted.

One of my more favorite Twitter feeds is the one from Visual News. It's from that feed that this link comes:

London-based designer Michael Pecirno creates minimalist maps in an ongoing project to understand the landscape of the world. His work is exploratory, using a decidedly narrow set of data to see the unique patterns it creates across the land. In each case, the map is drawn with data points, leaving traditional physical and political borders to our imagination.

Each map visualizes the lower 48 states of the US, using a wealth of information from the USDA to detail specific features like urbanization, fields planted with corn, the spread of grasslands, or bodies of water.

A couple of samples below. Here's the map for grass (not the kind some of you smoke):


Here's the one for shrubs:


Another map that might be of interest is the United States Drought Monitor map:


It's discouraging to see that my area is still in a pretty bad drought, despite the rainy Spring. How are things in your neck of the woods?

To close things up, how about a song?

Here's a little bit about the artist, JJ Cale.

What's happening in YOUR gardens this week?

Link to the Saturday Gardening Thread archives.

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