Shady Way Gardens Bits and Briefs September 2003
TOBACCO & ELEPHANT FOOD

SEPTEMBER

WHEW! By September you almost feel like that ancient Greek Guy.  You know the one...not Prometheus (although he didn't have it so good either)...the other one..Sisyphus!  Doomed forever to roll a heavy rock up a steep hill, only to have it always roll back just at the top.  Just like the frustrated gardener, beckoned by the promise of cool September weather, then assaulted with another run of relentless heat.  But even if September is a hot month, it's still an excellent month for planting new trees and shrubs and fertilizing established ones.  Annuals such as Petunias, Pansies, Geraniums etc. are best left for early or even mid to late October if it doesn't cool down. 

SEPTEMBER

Got plants that "just up and died" lately?  Well, you're definitely not alone.  In fact, if it's any consolation, you're in with the in crowd!  Lots of people saw some of their smaller and even some well established plants bite the dust last month.  In July our Tree Tobacco(Nicotiana glauca) that had sprung up on its own last year and was flourishing with lush leaves and yellow flowers just up and died.  One day the leaves looked sort of droopy, so of course we gave it a nice long soaking with the hose.  The leaves collapsed further, and within a week or so the tree was an obvious goner.  What happened?  We figured a fungus disease had attacked the root system.  Texas Root Rot is a disease that occurs naturally in our desert soils and attacks various susceptible plants in a hit and miss fashion.  Its hallmark is the sudden leaf wilt and quick plant death during summer months.  There is nothing you can do once a plant is infected.  Most desert plants such as Mesquites and Palo Verdes and all Palms and Grasses are not susceptible.  Some of the most susceptible plants include Bottle Trees, Carobs, Figs, Cottonwoods, Cassias, Roses.  The fungus itself, with the snazzy name of Phymatotrichum omnivorum produces powdery spore mats on moist soil but these don't infect plants.  Instead, susceptible plants are infected by the underground parts of the fungus when they invade the root system.

SEPTEMBER

People are always looking for a "fool proof" plant.  Aside from the plastic varieties one such plant that is a pretty good candidate is the plant known as Elephant Food or Spekboom (Portulacaria afra) in its native African habitat.  This shrubby succulent can endure tremendous amounts of heat and drought and still look green and perky.  It can be clipped to make a small dense hedge or left to become a small, sprawling shrub.  It can take full sun to partial shade but will become leggy in heavy shade.  Grown in a hanging basket or tall pot Elephant Food produces impressive cascades of branches with an exotic effect for your patio or doorway.  Eventually old plants form an amazing, gnarly trunk which can be exposed by trimming off the branches coming out of it.  In fact, this plant lends itself to any amount of pruning and shaping and is an excellent subject for the bonsai aficionado.  Want more plants?  Just whack off a branch and stick it in the ground or a pot, keep slightly moist and Voila!  Another plant!  Going on a short vacation?  Nobody to water your Elephant Food?  Not to worry.  When you get back it may look a little shriveled but will look good as new after a nice drink.  Some people consider this plant a variety of the well known Jade (Crassula argentea) that has graced indoor parlors for years.  Whereas Elephant Food is unfazed by heat, regular Jades will grow outside in shade only until July or so, then if they are not moved inside to a cooler spot, they start falling apart, especially if overwatered.  Before long plants become a big heap of rotten stems and leaves.  The one drawback to Elephant Food is that it will freeze during a hard frost, so must be covered if freezing temperatures are expected.

SEPTEMBER SEEDS

Snap Beans, Beets, Bok Choy, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, Carrots, Chinese Cabbage, Celery, Collards, Cucumber, Endive, Fennel, Kohlrabi, Leek, Lettuce, Mustard Greens, Peas, Radish, Spinach, Swiss Chard, Turnips

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Web Comments george@mswn.com September 13, 2004 Shady Way Nursery 2004