Q: In mid-May I saw a beautiful large shrub/small tree blooming in Fernandina Beach, Florida. The flowers are red and surround the stems like a brush. I was told it is called “crimson bottlebrush” and is also called “lemon bottlebrush.” Its botanical name is Callistemon citrinus. Is it hardy in Atlanta?
A: The bottlebrush you saw in Florida is worth trying along Georgia’s coast and in our southernmost counties, but it is not considered hardy in Atlanta. However, there is another variety of red bottlebrush known as ‘Woodlanders Hardy’ that is fully hardy in Atlanta and even farther north. It is also durable, drought-tolerant and easy to grow. Its flowers may not be quite as large as Callistemon citrinus, but it is still a show-stopper when in bloom and an attractive shrub when out of bloom. We have reports of two other bottlebrushes that may be hardy enough to try in Atlanta and other parts of Georgia: the red ‘Clemson’ bottlebrush (Callistemon rigidus 'Clemson') and a pink-flowering hybrid of Callistemon paludosa.
Q: White clover has taken over my lawn. I love it, but my husband calls it a weed. It doesn’t require fertilizer or extra watering, and it is living, which is more than I can say for the grass we have been re-seeding and struggling with for years. Is it all right to have a clover lawn?
A: Yes. A lawn consisting entirely or partially of clover is fine. There is no rule that says a lawn must be grass. In fact, many years ago seed companies and garden centers used to sell clover seeds for lawns. Some are now doing it again.
Q: My ‘Moon and Stars’ watermelon plants are spotted yellow. What is wrong?
A: Nothing is wrong. The foliage of this old-fashioned watermelon is naturally speckled with yellow. The fruit is also speckled. ‘Moon and Stars’ gets its name because the rind has a large yellow spot (moon) and numerous small yellow spots (stars). The flesh is not speckled. There are red and yellow-fleshed strains of ‘Moon and Stars.’ The yellow-fleshed strain is not quite as sweet as the red strain.
Q: How many different kinds of vegetables are grown commercially in Georgia?
A: It is not possible to give an exact number, but here are some of the vegetables grown commercially in Georgia: arugula, asparagus, Lima bean, snap bean, wax bean, beet, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cantaloupe, carrot, cauliflower, Swish chard, collards, Indian corn, sweet corn, cucumber, dandelion, edamame, eggplant, garlic, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mache, mizuna, mustard, okra, Vidalia onion, parsnip, English pea, field pea, peppers (numerous kinds of hot, sweet and in-between), Irish potato, pumpkin, radicchio, radish, rape, rutabaga, spinach, summer squash, winter squash, sweet potato, tomatillo, tomato, turnip, watercress and watermelon.
Q: I recently saw a recall on some pumpkin butter. Is pumpkin butter similar to regular butter?
A: Although it has a thick texture similar to butter, pumpkin butter is essentially a preserve of cooked pumpkin mixed with spices such as ginger and cinnamon. The end result often resembles the filling of a pumpkin pie, though it is sometimes darker. Pumpkins are not the only produce used for this type of spread. Apples and sweet potatoes are also used to make “butters.”
Q: I love the brown thrasher, our state bird. I love listening to its song and watching it dig in the leaves. What can I do to attract brown thrashers to my garden?
A: Brown thrashers like to eat berries and fruits, so plant some of its favorites. Here are a few suggestions: blueberry, blackberry, elderberry, muscadine, American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), blackgum or tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium), rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) and alternate-leaf dogwood (Cornus alternifolia). Pokeberry (also known as pokeweed and poke salet) is another favorite, but this large perennial may not be a good choice for all landscapes because of its propensity to seed itself around. Brown thrashers like dense shrubs for nesting, especially thorny or spiny ones, so include some of them. Include areas of leaf mulch where the brown thrashers can thrash about for insects, worms and grubs. A shallow birdbath low to the ground is another draw.
Q: I want to grow some gourds to make into houses for purple martins. What gourds are best for this? Where can I find more information about purple martins? I want to attract these beautiful and interesting birds to my farm.
A: The gourds most often used for birdhouses are usually referred to as “birdhouse gourds” or “bottle gourds.” The seeds are often sold by garden centers, grocery stores, mail-order catalogs or by fellow Georgians in the Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin. They are easy to grow. For more information about purple martins, contact:
Purple Martin Conservation Association
301 Peninsula Dr., Suite 6
Erie, PA 16505
The association’s website has much information about the birds and how to attract them. Purple martins depend on birdhouses (either gourds or colonial nesting boxes) in order to have places to nest. Purple martins will return year after year to the same nesting site. Many Georgians look forward to the return of their colonies of purple martins in early spring and enjoy watching their aerial maneuvers.
Q: Are yucca blooms edible?
A: Yes. The white petals have a sweet, mild, cabbage flavor.
Q: When is blueberry season in Georgia?
A: Georgia’s blueberry season usually runs from mid-May to mid-August.
Q: What makes Vidalia® onions sweet?
A: Southeast Georgia’s mild climate, the area’s sandy, low-sulfur soil, exclusive seed varieties and precise farming practices make this original sweet onion mild and flavorful.
Q: What can I plant in my garden to attract goldfinches?
A: Sow sunflowers. Goldfinches love to eat the seeds. Choose varieties with lots of flowers instead of a variety that produces only one giant flower per plant. Goldfinches also eat the seeds of purple coneflowers. Purple coneflowers are perennials and though they may be grown from seed, they are more commonly acquired by purchasing the plants from your local nursery or garden center. To a lesser extent, goldfinches will eat the seeds from Mexican sunflower (tithonia), zinnias and black-eyed Susans. They love to eat seeds of dandelion and thistle and will use thistle down in making their nests.
Q: My neighbor has a shrub with small flowers that smell like banana Popsicles. What is its name?
A: It is appropriately called “banana shrub” (Michelia figo), and it does indeed smell like banana-flavored Popsicles or Creamsicles. The fragrance is strongest in the afternoon. The flowers are cream to creamy yellow, edged in purple and not particularly showy. The fragrance is unique and wonderful. The shrub is an attractive evergreen and can reach 10 feet high and 15 feet wide but is usually much smaller. With occasional pruning it can easily be kept as an informal hedge. It is a good shrub for planting next to a patio or porch where its fragrance can be appreciated up close. It is best for coastal, southern, and middle Georgia. It may be killed or suffer winter damage in the mountains.
Q: What is surimi?
A: Surimi is a minced fish product used to manufacture simulated crabmeat, lobster and other seafood.
Q: When do Georgia peaches come in season?
A: Some early varieties from south Georgia become available in May. The season extends through August and even into early September thanks to late varieties and Georgia’s geography and topography. Trees in north Georgia and at higher elevations will bloom and bear later than their south Georgia counterparts.
--Arty G. Schronce