Hardy Banana… meet January. January… please be nice.

I’ve never had the guts to get a banana tree. Our indoor and outdoor space is shady and limited, and this tropical plant never seemed like a good idea in places with snow. A recent trip to New Orleans seduced me into rethinking my no-banana yard. There are plenty of fabulous plants in the (surprise!) Garden District, including banana trees flush with tiny yellow-green fruit. I’m still not sure if I’m ready for a Siam Ruby , Muse Bordelon or Praying Hands banana tree, but I broke down and got a lovely Hardy Banana a couple days ago .

Banana Tree in the New Orleans Garden District. From Wikimedia Commons.

The ‘Musa Basajoo’ or Hardy Banana is one of the most cold-hardy bananas around. While the fruit’s not edible, the foliage is beautiful ( rich green  leaves that start out as almost chartruse). Hardy Bananas are cold hardy as far up as Ohio, and they can grow up to twelve FEET in a single season.  I’m planting mine in an oversized container along with some colorful trailing groundcover.  Thanks Terregan Nurseries and NOLA for the push to banana!

Cacti from Iowa — What Could Be Better?

One of my favorite DoLeaf tasks is buying plants from  sellers to test out the quality of their shipped plants. Often, I get a shrub for my own garden, but the January weather (and frozen soil) has pushed me to get more houseplants.  I must confess that Micah and Ryan are the houseplant experts on the DoLeaf team so most often my housplant purchases go to them or other indoor greenthumbs so the plants can actually live for more than a month. ( I’m around 0-10 on houseplants since I started gardening.)

But I think my luck’s going to change. I bought an assortment of cacti from DoLeaf’s latest seller Krieger Greenhouses of Jefferson, Iowa and received six super healthy plants. I’m up to my ears in cacti and succulents (in a good, not prickly way) and all of them are doing great. Here’s some pictures of the 2 lovely plantings I got from the $15.00 order.  (Micah’s taking care of one at DoLeaf headquarters, and I’ve got the other.)

Three lovely plants from Krieger Greenhouses.
The other three plants from Krieger's 6 cacti assortment.

Featured Flora Friday: American Beautyberry

American Beautyberry

The folks over at Garden Rant posted a lovey picture on an American Beautyberry yesterday. With its oval-shaped leaves and tiny bundles of purple-plum berries, the Beautyberry is a great native plant that remains a striking speciman well into the winter.

For part of the year, this shrub remains inconspicuous in the garden. In the summer, clusters of lavender flowers bloom from leaf nodes attracting butterflies. In the fall, berries with a rich, metallic luster appear on the beautyberry’s woody stems and remain even as the plant loses its leaves.

A Plant by Any Other Name:
While the American beautyberry is a common name for this southeastern native, it also goes by French mulberry, Spanish mulberry, dwarf mulberry, sow berry and sour berry. However, the shrub is not related to mulberries but to verbena.

Where it Grows:
Beautyberries can be found in southeastern forest from Maryland to Florida among pine, oak, and hickory trees. The shrub, which can grow up to 6 feet, is great in shade gardens.

From http://www.penick.net/digging/?p=41

Featured Flora Friday: Madagascar Palm

Each Friday, we focus on one plant and explain where it grows, what makes it great, and why you should check it out. We’ll also offer up a few suggestions for nurseries and gardeners centers interested in adding it to their catalog.

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Contrary to its name, the Madagascar Palm (‘pachypodium lamerei’) isn’t really a palm, but an arid tropical succulent.  In its native southern Madagascar, the tree can grow up to fifteen feet tall, but it can also easily fit in a large container stateside. The pachypodium lamerei protects itself against hungry animals by growing 2.5-inch-long, stiff needles along the trunk and branches. It’s not cuddly, but it’s very beautiful.

Madagascar palms are drought tolerant and they love hot, dry, sunny climates. Mature plants bear large, white flowers that have a light fragrance. According to Texas A&M in 2009, the Madagascar Palm is an outstanding interior plant.

Grown from Miami to California, the Madagascar Palm remains an interesting, carefree specimen plant in warm climates or an excellent  container plant indoors. Seeds are available at many nurseries specializing in tropical plants. For a healthy, one-foot plant, check out Ohiotraders Botanicals.

Featured Flora Friday: Blue Ivory Hosta

Each Friday, we focus on one plant and explain where it grows, what makes it great, and why you should check it out. We’ll also offer up a few suggestions for nurseries and gardeners centers interested in adding it to their catalog.

Blue Ivory Hosta

A sport of halcyon, this creamy-white hosta is a beautiful complement to the Ghost Fern and offers a striking contrast against a Red Lady Fern. As a medium-sized hosta, the Blue Ivory is perfect for shipping but still remains a great speciman due to its striking variegation. Eastern Iowa’s In The Country Garden and Gifts carried this hosta in 2009, but it quickly sold out. Nature Hills also sold out of the Blue Ivory this past season.

New hostas like the Blue Ivory are great for small nurseries interested in shipping plants. Not only do they require the same shipping packaging as  any medium-sized hosta, but hosta enthusiasts (like me) tend to have major difficulty finding them, especially when the trend is giant hostas like the Empress Wu.

Small (and medium) hostas can be great sellers. Check out the newest drawf, small, and medium hostas. A plant like the tiny Dragon’s Tail can be just as pricey as a Big Daddy, but easier to deliver. So, think small  and list unique hostas with great features other than their size.

Featured Flora Friday: Horsetail Reed

Each Friday, we focus on one plant and explain where it grows, what makes it great, and why you should check it out. We’ll also offer up a few suggestions for nurseries and gardeners centers interested in adding it to their catalog.

Equesetum Hyemale or “Horsetail Reed”

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John Wise from Garden Wise Nursery in South Carolina carries this beautiful ornamental grass, a primitive perennial that is thought to have been eaten by dinosaurs. Found  in Japanese-inspired gardens and bog-like environments, horsetail reed is a popular specimen in many shaded residential gardens, growing somtimes alongside hosta and Solomon’s Seal.

Although beautiful and hardy, this plant can be tricky to ship due to its long shoots.  Here are a few tricks for shipping tall plants like horsetail reed:

1) Ship Small: Horsetail reed is a relatively quick grower, so ship young plants that aren’t tall enough to need a special-sized box.

2) Get a special-size box: Check out USPS mail tubes and other containers for images and posters for long plants. Here’s one that is 6 by 38 inches, good for quarts and half-gallons.

3) Consider your competition: For harder-to-ship plants like full-grown horsetail reed, look at what other sellers are charging.  One online nursery sells 5-gallon containers for nearly sixty dollars. While a good price for some landscapers, this might be a bit pricey for many casual gardeners. Consider your own shipping rates and fees. If it’s less than other sellers, try listing your plant.