Camellias with foliar flair

Camellias are treasured for their winter blossoms and evergreen foliage. Some lesser-known camellia varieties sport variegated leaves that add even more interest to the ornamental package. Variegation of camellia foliage is caused by a genetic mutation or a virus. The latter is usually benign; in fact, horticulturists sometimes deliberately introduce viruses to produce variegation. Commercially available varieties include:

'Winter's Sunset' (Camellia hybrid)—Leaves have light-green margins. Flowers are single and pink. Fall bloomer.

'Greensboro Daybreak' (C. japonica) —Leaves have yellow margins and splotches. Red, semi-double flowers. Winter bloomer.

'Benten-kagura' (C. japonica)—Leaves have an irregular, white border. Red peony-like flowers are mottled with white. Fall bloomer.

'Shikishima Splash' (C. sasanqua)—Leaves splashed with bright yellow. Medium-pink, double flowers. Fall bloomer.

For more information about variegated camellias, visit www.camforest.com. Or call Camellia Forest Nursery in Chapel Hill at (919) 968-0504.

To salt or not to salt

Sodium chloride is the most common ingredient used for de-icing roads and sidewalks. Homeowners typically apply it in the form of rock salt. Excessive salt in snow that melts off driveways and walks can leach into the soil, harming or killing turf grass, trees and shrubs. On a larger scale, salt used to de-ice highways can pollute lakes and streams and is also corrosive to road surfaces. Alternative products exist, but each has its own set of pros and cons. A new product that holds promise for reducing environmental impacts is made from a byproduct of the corn wet-milling process. Some highway departments are experimenting with corn-based de-icers, which are also less corrosive to concrete and asphalt.

Alternatives to sodium chloride include:

  • Calcium chloride—A widely touted alternative to rock salt. Effective down to temperatures of -31 degrees C compared to -10 degrees C for sodium chloride. About three times more expensive than rock salt, but covers more area. Less harmful to plants than sodium chloride, but still contains salts. Corrosive to metal and concrete.
  • Urea—Often touted as an environmentally friendly product, but high in nitrogen, which can damage plants and harm water quality. Significantly more expensive than rock salt. Less corrosive to hard surfaces. Effective to about -4 degrees C.
  • Calcium magnesium acetate—Contains dolomitic limestone and acetic acid. Very expensive but much kinder to concrete and plants. Effective to about -3 degrees C.
  • Sand or cat litter—Doesn't melt snow or ice, but can improve traction. Messy cleanup.

For a comprehensive look at these and other de-icing products, go to http://water.greenventure.ca/road-salts-deicers. Regardless of the product you choose, the best way to reduce negative impact is to use only the amount needed. You can easily get carried away with hand-sprinkling. Follow package instructions and measure carefully. Also, be sure to wipe your pet's paws after walks. Salts and chemical de-icers they lick from their paws can cause serious harm.

Hort Shorts

  • Marginally hardy or tender plants can be protected from freezing temperatures via commercial products like Wall O' Waters. Homemade versions can work too. Wall O' Waters are a series of connected, topless, plastic tubes that encircle a plant. Filled with water, they absorb heat during the day and release it at night to insulate the plant. They protect plants from weather as cold as 16 degrees F. If the water freezes, it produces heat that keeps the air temperature inside the wall above 32 degrees F. You can achieve a similar effect using a ring of milk jugs or soda bottles filled with water. Any spaces between the containers must be sealed. Duct tape or silicon glue will work. Some gardeners use Wall O' Waters to get a jump on the spring vegetable season.
  • The 'Flame' willow is a large, deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub with eye-popping winter appeal. The stems are bright yellow-orange. It may grow as large as 20 feet tall, but can be pruned to size each year. It grows best in full sun in average to wet soil.

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