Cosmos is one of the showiest wildflowers used along Georgia highways. Tending a wildflower meadow is no easy chore. PHOTO CREDIT: Walter Reeves

Wildflowers are beautiful but long-term maintenance is difficult

Q: I am on the beautification committee of our subdivision. We want to beautify the front entrance by planting wildflowers. What should we plant? Tim Keith, Sugar Hill

A: A wildflower planting can be beautiful during some parts of the year but ugly as sin during others. I haven’t yet found a mixture of seed that gives year-round beauty. Planting seed is easy but maintaining a wildflower meadow is not fun. You will have constant competition from weeds, which will have to be hand-pulled, and it’s not likely many in your group really want to do that. If you want to explore further, I have notes on starting a wildflower area and on choosing seeds appropriate for Georgia at bit.ly/GAwildfl.

Q: I am considering purchasing a Fat Albert blue spruce tree for my front yard. The tree will be planted under a canopy of hardwoods with morning sun. My concern is whether it will endure our hot summer weather. Ben Benfield, East Cobb

A: You may get a few years of life but I don’t think Fat Albert will survive a decade. Although spruces thrive in the mountains of Colorado, they cannot abide prolonged heat. Spruce is rated heat-hardy only in the upper reaches of North Georgia. Although I occasionally see blue spruce trees in Atlanta that have grown to a reasonable size, they are the exception rather than the rule.

Q: I’m starting a cut flower business on my land. My UGA soil report says I needed to add 55 pounds of limestone per 1,000 square feet. Can I do this at the same time I add fertilizer? Brandi Morris, Hawkinsville

A: Lime and fertilizer accomplish two different things in a flower bed. Lime is mixed into the soil to change the soil pH. This helps plant roots absorb fertilizer. Lime takes several weeks to become active in the soil so fall is a good time to apply it. Fertilizer is used to promote plant growth, so putting it out in the fall doesn’t make sense if you’ll be planting the seed for flowers next spring. Bottom line: till lime into the soil now and apply fertilizer a couple of weeks before you plant in spring.

Q: My ninebark shrub is not doing well. When planted it was beautiful and really cool looking. It is supposed to be native to Georgia. Now it seems to be dying/struggling. Any advice? Cindie Olivero, email

A: Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius, is indeed a native plant in Georgia and can thrive in the right spot. When I did a television show in Cincinnati, we used ‘Diabolo’ ninebark frequently. The deep purple leaf color made it a great background for flowering plants. The shrub itself has pretty clusters of small pink flowers in spring.

However, it seems to suffer here in full sunshine. Perhaps it would be better suited to the cooler northern parts of the state. That said, I have a ‘Little Devil’ dwarf ninebark which is doing fine in the shade of a small tree. Consider moving your shrub to a shadier spot where it won’t suffer from dry soil.