That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten;
and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten;
and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten.
Joel 1:4, the Holy Bible
(Translation in the vernacular of today: If it’s not one thing it’s another.)
es, I know, I have quoted that verse before, but it is so telling, and so apropos to our daily gardening challenges, that I use it again.
The wonderful early spring that we have just experienced was not without its problems, among which was the much below par dogwood show in certain sections of our part of the world. You might have noticed it too, particularly if some of those affected were your own trees.
Dogwoods are, of course, among our salient native flowering trees, pushing forth their snow white flowers after a runup of a cream or chartreuse color. The woods, and particularly their edges, are peppered with them every spring.
I first noticed, this spring, my own trees, most of them white but a couple of pink varieties, that had a washy, dishwater color. Upon close examination I found the petals of each flower discolored with numerous spots of brown to the point the white feature was negated at a distance. I call it petal blight, and it appears more commonly in cool and wet springs, just what we have experienced.
After some research, I am still not sure if they have the dreaded anthracnose fungus that has affected dogwoods to our east for a number of years, or whether, hopefully, it is an aberration only for this year. Anthracnose has not been much evident here and I hope what I (and maybe you) see is the result of the symptoms of petal blight, a catch-all term that also applies to other woody and herbaceous plants.
A cruise around our city and county revealed the problem much in evidence. However, it was not uncommon to see affected trees in the same neighborhood with unaffected ones, i.e. with spotless clean white petals.
Our native dogwoods are botanically Cornus florida, and they are the species most affected with the blight or anthracnose fungus, whichever it is. The oriental species of same is Cornus kousa, and it is, fortunately, highly resistant to the petal diseases. It blooms a month later than the native and is now plentiful on the market. My grandmother, and the creator of this weekly column, had the first one I ever saw back in the 1960s at her home on Greenacres Drive.
Any considerable departure of weather from average, at whatever season, always presents some problem or other, whether too high or too low temperatures, ice storms, floods, droughts, etc. We seldom, in any given year, escape all of them, and some years are accosted by more than one. We will blame the puny dogwood show on the wet and cool spring we experienced this time around.
Incidentally, for those having dogwood troubles (and there are several other potential problems with the American dogwood) there is an excellent substitute that flowers at the same time and reaches about the same stature as the dogwood.
The doublefile viburnum, Viburnum tomentosum plicatum, offers a first-class relief from dogwood problems. Usually sold as a shrub, it is capable of reaching 20 feet tall and even wider than that. I have had two in the past that were that large.
At a distance, the doublefile resembles a dogwood, with lacecap white flowers that are not bothered, at least not yet, by many serious problems. It needs generous watering in its infancy, and a nutritious succoring of rotted manure will speed its growth up considerably. Don’t expect flowers until about the third or fourth year, but after that the doublefile is generous with bloom.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Don’t let your “mind forged manacles” keep you from trying a doublefile.
Don’t forget the garden tour this Saturday to benefit First Presbyterian Church at Huntingdon, pastored by our own Parisian, the Rev. Arthur Lodge, who was formerly pastor of First Presbyterian Church here. His wife, Mary, has organized a garden walk to begin at the garden of Mike and Judy Garner on Edmonds Place at the end of Anderson Drive, at 9:30 a.m., and concluding at our place at 1315 E. Blythe St. Lunch is included and tickets are $15, available at the gardens if you don’t already have one.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.