Hidden Ponds Newsletter 
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Friday, November 28th

Farfugium and Fatsia
Fatsia japonica
Two Shade Garden Showstoppers

November is a great time to plant.  While the air has gotten cooler, the soil is still warm from the summer heat and Mother Nature normally provides enough water that supplemental watering is minimal.  Planting now gives your newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials a head start for spring and reduces the effect of heat stress since the plant roots have had several months to establish themselves before the hot summer heat takes hold.


In an article in the August newsletter, we talked about shade gardening and how to plan a shade garden.   Texture and leaf shape and size are keys to creating an interesting shade garden.  Two plants that make a dynamic statement are Farfugium japonicum, sometimes called ligularia or leopard plant, and Fatsia japonica.


Farfugium japonicum 'Giganteum'

There are several varieties of Farfugium that share common characteristics. Most prefer moist, well-drained soil and grow best in partial sun to full shade.  The plant is a great irrigation indicator for the garden as it will dry out and wilt first before most other shade plants.  While considered a perennial, this plant is evergreen to approximately 20 degrees Fahrenheit, which usually makes it a year round staple in the Charleston area.  The plant itself will survive temperatures as low as zero degrees.  Favored by gardeners for its shiny, dark green leaves, most plants produce tall spikes of small yellow daisy like flowers in the Fall, giving a shade garden a small pop of color. This plant is not normally browsed by deer.


One of the most popular is Farfugium japonicum 'Giganteum', commonly known as Tractor Seat Plant.  The leaf resembles a tractor seat and can be anywhere from five to 18 inches across on stalks that are three feet high.  The plant will grow to approximately three to four feet tall and will equal that in width.  Paired with Aztec Grass for a border, camellia japonicas as the winter color interest and some Holly or Autumn Fern, Farfugium is a strong supporting plant in a sensational winter shade garden show.


Farfugium isn't the only plant trying to steal the show.  Fatsia also competes in the category of best supporting plant in the interesting leaf category.   Like its competition, Fatsia lends a bit of a tropical feel to the garden.  The leaves are dark green and resemble a human hand with long fingers.   The foliage is cold hardy to 15 degrees Fahrenheit while the plant itself will survive temperatures around zero degrees.  Known for its leaf shape the plant produces white flowers in the fall that are in a cluster on stems above the leaves.  Unfortunately, deer tend to munch on Fatsia so this needs to be planted in a protected area.


The mature height of Fatsia, approximately six to ten feet tall and wide, makes this plant a consideration for a showcase plant in the shade garden.  Fatsia can reach heights of 15 feet under ideal conditions of deep shade and moist, well-drained, acidic soil.  Paired with Pieris japonica 'Mountain Snow',  Dianella, and reblooming Azaleas like Pink Ruffles, Fatsia brings the leaf interest to the shade garden varieties.  They also do well in containers on shady porches where year round interest is difficult to achieve.

Nemesia, a new winter annual
Winter Annuals
Move Over Pansies

By now, all the summer flowering annuals are long past their primes and those beautiful containers created this past spring are looking a little worse for wear.  The good news is you don't have to wait until spring to start over again and there are options for pops of winter color to get you through the shortened sunny days until next spring.  The key to a long bloom is finding the right annuals that can handle the harsh cold weather of December, January and February.



There are a few options that are super cold hardy and will continue to perform when temperatures dip into the 20's Fahrenheit. Pansies, the best known winter flower, are a safe bet and with multiple color options and flower sizes they will work with just about any color scheme.  Don't be deceived by the small flowers that violas produce.  While smaller than their cousins, the pansies, these are the toughest cold winter annuals and will flower more readily than pansies in cold weather.

Snapdragons add a touch of fragrance and height to a winter container.  The larger sizes can reach heights of two to three feet and make a great statement in containers.


Not all cold hardy annuals are flowers and it would be hard to create a winter container without adding flowering cabbage and kale.  As the weather cools, the colors become more vibrant and pair perfectly with pansies and violas.  They too are hardy into the mid twenties and even perform well in partial shade.



Just like spring and summer annuals, not all winter annuals perform the same way and special care is needed for some newcomers on the scene.  Diascia, Nemesia and Stock are three recent winter annuals that, with a typical Charleston Winter, are outstanding container plants and will flower until Spring.  However, last winter was anything but normal and this winter isn't starting off on a warm note, so these beauties will need to be covered around 32 degrees.  All three come in a variety of colors.  Nemesia grows to approximately two feet tall and is rather bushy.  Diascia flowers look somewhat like Snapdragons but depending on the variety can either grow upright or trailing.  Stock has flowers that grow along a spiky stem and varieties can grow from one to three feet tall.


Now that we have identified some cool weather annuals to provide a show of color in your winter, you can mix these in containers with small evergreen shrubs.  A small sun loving container might use Dianella, blueberry flax, in the center, surrounded by a bright display of pansies and violas for color.  Another idea is to plant a cone shaped boxwood in the center of a ceramic pot and plant Diascia as a trailer with some flowering cabbage and kale surrounding the boxwood. 


With the proper plant knowledge of what survives in cold weather, you can use your imagination to create wonderful winter containers that provide color and interest through Spring.

Leaf Composting
To Mulch or Compost That is the Question

Some people have a love hate relationship with their trees.  Spring and summer, trees flower and beautify our landscapes providing color and shade on hot days.  But the love affair ends quickly when the leaves, once waving gloriously over our heads are now blowing around at our feet.  So begins the annual leaf battle and the question of what to do with the leaves.


What is the difference between mulching and composting leaves? When leaves are thoroughly decomposed and produce an organic matter, that is compost.  Mulching leaves is essentially taking the recently fallen leaves and placing them in beds and around shrubs, as you would pine straw, to suppress weeds and provide a barrier between nature's elements and the soil.  Thoroughly decomposed leaves are rich in minerals and organic material and will help create conditions in which all plants will grow, unfortunately icluding weeds.  And it is essentially this point that differentiates between compost and mulch.  When leaves are broken down they are now compost and all that rich organic matter is best suited to be used by the soil and not be exposed to nature's harsh conditions. 


Regardless of whether you decide to compost leaves or use them as mulch, the best manner to collect the leaves is to use a mulching lawnmower that can shred them.  It takes awhile to compost shredded leaves but freshly shredded leaves are ready for use as mulch immediately.   It is important to note, the mulched leaves will eventually breakdown and become compost and provide some nutrients to your soil (where the roots of your plants live and thrive).  


If you don't want the look of leaves in your beds, then composting is your alternate option.  Create a pile of leaves approximately 4 feet in diameter and three feet high.  Ideally, the shredded leaf pile should be in a bin or container of some type, which will make turning the pile easier.  The idea is to get the microorganisms to begin to break down the leaves.  In order to get this started, the leaves in the pile should be wet, but not soggy as too much water will cause an anaerobic (without oxygen) condition to develop, thereby reducing the rate of decomposition and potentially leading to an unpleasant odor.


In warmer weather, the leaf pile should be turned approximately once a month.  But since it's Fall and the temperatures are getting cooler, turning less often is better as heat in the center of the pile, created by Mother Nature, used to decompose leaves will escape and cause the composting process to slow down.  If there is an ammonia type smell, turn the pile.  The point of turning a pile is to bring leaves from the outer edges into the center and to continue to add oxygen to the pile.  While turning the pile, take care to notice the moisture content and add more water if necessary.


A compost pile of leaves should begin to produce heat in the center within a few weeks.  As the leaves decompose they should be reduced to less than half its original size.  If you notice that the leaves are not decomposing, check the following:

  • Too little or too much water
  • Improper aeration
  • Too tightly packed leaf pile (the leaves should be shredded to start)
  • Too small a leaf pile to start with

Finished compost should be dark and crumbly with much of the original appearance no longer visible. It should have an earthy odor. Normally, compost will be ready in 4-9 months.

Regardless of what you decide to do with the fallen leaves, definitely clear the leaves from your lawn.  A heavily leafed lawn can smother aeration for the turf and brown out or kill the grass for the coming spring.


Hidden Ponds Nursery
4863 Highway 17 N (next to SeeWee Outpost)
Awendaw, SC
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5 Things To Do In Your Garden This Month

1.  Wash, dry and store recently emptied pots, seed trays and containers to remove overwintering pests and diseases that may infect next year's plants.

2. Mulch beds with leaves or pinestraw

3. Dig up and divide daisies, irises and daylilies.

4. Plant Paperwhite bulbs in interesting containers for indoor color and fragrance.

5. Clean bird feeders and stock pile with lots of food.