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Originally published Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 5:30 AM

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Q&A: flowering evergreens, eggshells in the garden

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris recommends two flowering evergreen trees and explains the benefits of eggshells in the garden.


Special to The Seattle Times

Gardening Events

Ciscoe’s Picks

Luminaria at the Yakima Area Arboretum: 6- 10 p.m. Dec. 13-14. Luminarias through the arboretum, holiday music. 1401 Arboretum Drive, Yakima; free (www.ahtrees.org/calendar.htm).

Green Lake Pathway of Lights: 4:30-7:30 p.m. Dec. 14. Luminarias around the lake, holiday music. Green Lake Park, 7201 E. Green Lake Drive N., Seattle; free, canned goods collected (www.facebook.com/GreenLakePathwayofLights).

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In the Garden

Q: Can you recommend a flowering evergreen tree (15-25 feet tall) for a sunny location?

A: Two beautiful broadleaf evergreen trees that stay small and thrive in hot, sunny conditions are magnolia grandiflora “Little Gem” and Fremontodendron californicum (flannelbush).

Magnolia grandiflora “Little Gem” will add a tropical feel to your garden. Hardy to about zero degrees, the large, leathery, dark-green leaves are undercoated with fuzzy cinnamon-brown felt. Deliciously fragrant, 6-inch-wide creamy-white flowers that appear intermittently all summer add to the exotic mystique. Slow growing, “Little Gem” can reach 25 feet over time. Although they love full sun and good drainage, “Little Gem” requires regular watering to look its best.

The Achilles’ heel of this tropical-looking beauty is that branches often break in heavy snow or ice storms. If you are home during a snowstorm, sweep the heavy snow off the branches. Fortunately, even if breakage occurs, these trees recover quickly with a bit of remedial pruning.

More difficult to grow, but fairly long lived if the soil is exceptionally well-drained is Fremontodendron californicum (flannelbush). This California native is hardy to about 10 degrees and can reach 20 feet tall by 12 feet wide. The grayish leaves are attractive, but it’s the glorious display of brilliant yellow 3-inch flowers, which occur in waves in spring and summer, that makes this a must-have tree. Plant your Fremontrodendron in a sunny location where the colorful blooms can be appreciated, with enough room to allow it to grow without the need for constant pruning.

These trees take well to pruning, but wear goggles and a dust mask when you do it. The leaves are covered with fuzzy hairs that can cause skin and eye irritation. Your Fremontodendron will live to a ripe old age only if it is planted in an area with sharp drainage. Once it’s established, never water it. These trees come from areas of summer drought, and are highly susceptible to root rot.

Q: I have a friend who puts eggshells in his garden. Is it a good idea?

A: Eggshells are good for the garden, but remember to wash the shells out and then crush them before adding them to the beds. Eggshells are high in calcium, a nutrient that is often deficient in Pacific Northwest soils but required for healthy cell growth in plants.

As the shells break down, they release calcium, minerals and other nutrients. The more finely crushed the shells, the faster they’ll break down. Working the shells into the soil around the drip lines of shrubs and between perennials will make the calcium and minerals more readily available to the root systems.

Another use for eggshells is to help deter slugs, snails and cutworms. These slithering pests don’t like scratching their tender stomachs on sharp objects. Spread the crushed shells around plants they tend to feed on. Slithery pests can, and will, cross crushed eggshells if they are hungry enough, but if it’s a choice between a weed in the open, or crossing a layer of sharp egg shells to chomp on your prized hosta, the slug might just decide the weed looks every bit as appetizing.

The birds will thank you for putting crushed eggshells in the garden as well. Our avian friends eat crushed eggshells to provide grit for digestion, and female birds gobble them up to make sure they have adequate calcium for egg laying.

So rather than tossing those eggshells into the compost bin, make sure your garden gets its share of the “Full Monty” as well!

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.



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About Ciscoe Morris

Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.
ciscoe@ciscoe.com

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