Garden observations: Spring is the most colorful time of the year in the garden

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Spring is our most colorful time of year in the garden. Camellias are finishing up just in time to let flowering dogwoods and azaleas take center stage.

In the midst of all of this beauty, here are a few of my garden observations about all of the beauty and some potential disease problems.

We’ve talked a lot about the 23 selections of Encore azalea. Last fall, we added a complete collection to the Brunswick Botanical Garden. Some varieties make a bigger show in fall while others reserve their best for spring. Autumn Amethyst (lavender) and Autumn Starlight (white with pink splotches) are completely covered in blooms. One of my personal favorites, Autumn Empress (medium pink), is only sporting a few blooms. Empress won’t make a great show until September.

If you want to check out the Encore collection, it’s planted directly in front of Building N (Cooperative Extension office) in the Government Complex in Bolivia. There’s no admission charge and the garden is available for viewing during daylight hours seven days per week.

Conditions have been perfect for spot anthracnose to get started on the bracts of flowering dogwood. This fungal disease causes purplish-brown spots to develop and also attacks the young leaves as they expand. Any time you have open flowers, new leaves and rainfall, you’ll end up with spot anthracnose.

Fungicides will control this disease but you’re probably too late to protect the open flowers. An application now may prevent the leaves from being distorted. Fungicides only make sense on very high value dogwoods.

The good news is spot anthracnose won’t kill your trees. This isn’t the Discula anthracnose that you’ve heard about in the mountains and other cooler locations. Discula hasn’t figured out a way to survive the oppressive heat of our summers.

Fireblight, a bacterial disease that attacks apples, pears, crabapples, cotoneaster and pyracantha, may show up this year. The bacterium over-winters on cankers on the plant stems. If it rains while the blooms are open, it gets splashed around. The result is curling brown leaves that remain on the limb, bark that looks as if it has been scorched by fire and the bending of the end of the branches into a “shepard’s crook.”

We don’t have a lot of weapons against bacterial diseases. At this time, your only choice is pruning out the damaged wood. It’s important to remove the limb 12-14 inches below visible damage to stop the spread of the disease. Dip your pruning shears in rubbing alcohol or a 10 percent bleach solution after each cut. Copper sprays during the winter may help some. Agricultural streptomycin or “fire blight spray” can be applied every three days or so during bloom, but it’s too late for that this year. Fireblight is a devastating disease that can kill entire plants if left unchecked. It’s also one of the main reasons you don’t see apple and pear orchards in the southeastern United States.