Gardening Blog

You can't fool a kumquat tree in the Lowcountry

This 4-year-old kumquat tree yields a bumper crop each December. The fruit ripens slowly and stays on the tree for weeks.
This 4-year-old kumquat tree yields a bumper crop each December. The fruit ripens slowly and stays on the tree for weeks. Photo by Larry Jukofsky

It seemed like April this month. Buds on our spring flowering shrubs began to swell; white flowers on ligustrum japonicum, pink and coral flowers on azaleas, yellow and white narcissus, gave our yards in January a whole new look.

It's not just the shrubs and bulbs behaving in unusual fashion; it's last year's summer annuals continuing to grow and flower. It's a relief to find that our citrus trees have produced their fruit right on schedule.

The Meyer lemon, grapefruit and lime trees were heavy with fall and winter fruit; the kumquat tree in a pot has a bumper crop. A favorite fruit to eat over the holidays, our kumquats are of the variety orangequat. It is cold-tolerant and does not require full sun. Highly decorative, it holds on to its fruit through December and January.

Other favorite citrus trees that can be depended upon to fruit at their scheduled time are the dwarfs calamondin orange, a hybrid between a tangerine and a kumquat that can be used as a substitute for limes; mandarin orange with seedless flesh and sweet flavor; and key lime, used in Mexican and Asian recipes and drinks.

Fig and olive trees can take our long, hot summers and be grown in containers. Both thrive in full sun but can take some shade.

Perhaps our bioscientists foresaw a climate change that would produce confusion with plant growth and flowering and that led them to begin the breeding of nonstop flowering plants. The huge success of an all-year bloom period of azaleas and hydrangeas has given summer in the Lowcountry a whole new look. Endless summer hydrangeas and encore series azaleas bloom on both old and new wood. This has led to some pruning confusion. The grower might need to cautiously experiment.

I can't leave the subject of hydrangeas without mentioning my personal favorite, the oak leaf hydrangea. It flowers once a year, but it has something going on all seasons. A new variety, ruby slippers, is of compact form with a multitude of fat flowers that start out white and mature to rose. Its leaves are showy in fall before they fall. You'll be seeing "compact form" on the label of many plants in garden centers this spring, it's the new best sell for the many homes with small, compact yards.

The popular clethra hummingbird summersweet is known for its fragrance that attracts hummingbirds, blooms all summer, is only 2 to 5 feet at maturity and tolerates full shade.

Purple haze butterfly bush blooms from summer to frost and takes up only 3 to 4 feet in garden space. Very new, space-saving and sure to be a big hit in our long, hot summers, is the first bedding or container plant Mandevilla sun parasol. There are four varieties: a mauve summer double, pinkish princettia, orange crackling fire and red Sunrosa.

Correction: In my Jan. 13 column, Faye and Ned Rahn's Plant Connection was given the wrong address. It is located on Lady's Island.