What is the question most often asked of this garden writer?
Answer: Why don't you do more Q and A's?
Why, indeed. Thinking it over, I realized there are certain questions that do keep coming up -- on the computer, on the phone, in the post office, in the supermarket. I don't have to think hard to know that you want to know more about chrysanthemums, hibiscus plants and Hydrangea paniculata.
Question. I've recently moved here from Ohio, where I had a large garden. My favorite fall flower was the chrysanthemum that flowered in the fall. I was recently in a friend's garden here and saw several chrysanthemums blooming. Can you explain this?
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Answer. You have lots of company questioning this oddity. For example, I was recently sent four plants from a grower who sends new plant varieties to garden writers for trial. The plants were labeled Dendranthema "Hardy Mum," flowering in early fall. I will write to them that my plants began blooming in early June. I will add that I will clip the spent blooms, and will fully expect them to flower again in fall. This is lower South fun behavior.
Q. The past few winters, I've left my potted hibiscus shrubs outside in winter and they've not been damaged. They were hit hard this past January and did not recover. Should I move my new plants to a protected place in the fall?
A. Yes. A garage is ideal if you have room. If not, a porch or deck, and a cover on cold nights. Hibiscus plants need a rest come November; they've been working hard for months. The native Georgia swamp hibiscus are a different story. They do not need protection from cold, but they do want a bit of shade and damp conditions.
Q. I am confused about hydrangeas. How do you tell the difference between the old-fashioned kind that blooms once a year and the new varieties that are of a smaller size and flower repeatedly? When do you prune them?
A. The hydrangea that your grandmother grew is called the mophead genus (hortensias); this includes the bigleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) that has produced the popular lacecaps. These bloom on old wood and should be pruned immediately after flowering. Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) and smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) bloom on new wood and can be pruned in the fall or not at all. Recently, a hydrangea breeding program from the U.S. National Arboretum has introduced dwarf selections of the Florida native oakleaf hydrangea with names like "Munchkin" and "Ruby Slippers." The compact oakleaf hydrangea, "Sike's Dwarf," is small enough to be used as a foundation planting.
In my own garden, I have a case of "leaf burn." This was brought on by the record heat in May, followed by more high temperatures in June. I recommend holding off on the pruning of shrubs growing in full sun until the weather breaks.
Sixty-year master gardener and environmentalist Betsy Jukofsky has spent three decades on Hilton Head Island learning the peculiarities of Coastal Lowcountry gardening.