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Tait loves plants. He will happily share with you more about a plant than you ever wanted to know - how to grow it, where it comes from, who bred it; once he gets rolling he is hard to stop. His knowledge can be overwhelming, but he means well. He wants you to be successful with your plants and love them as much as he does!

Chesapeake Gardens #3 History, Care and Maintenance of Crape Myrtles

By Chesapeake Gardens, Gardening Blog No Comments

This week I would like to talk about one of my favorite summer flowering trees, Crape Myrtles, and how one man changed our landscapes forever. Crape Myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) were introduced to the U.S. from China and Korea in the late 18th century. They were not very cold tolerant and cold winters would kill them to the ground or kill them out right. The species also suffered from powdery mildew which is a fungal disease that would damage both the leaves and flowers. In drier areas of the south Crape Myrtles were used as street trees and as summer flowering landscape plants but they were tough to use in the Mid-Atlantic due to their disease and hardiness issues. Then a wonderful thing happened, Dr. John Creech of the United States National Arboretum (USNA) brought back a new species of Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia fauriei) from Japan in the 1950’s and Dr. Don Egolf (also from the USNA) began to hybridize these two Crape Myrtle species in order to breed the cold-tolerance and disease resistance of L. fauriei with the flowers and landscape appeal of L. indica. During the ensuing thirty years until his untimely death Dr. Egolf worked tirelessly on this breeding program eventually introducing more than 20 cold hardy and disease resistant hybrid Crape Myrtles. All of these USNA introductions bear Native American names in a nod to Dr. Egolf’s home state of Oklahoma.

I want you now to think about all the fabulous Crape Myrtles that are planted in our landscapes and gardens, along our streets and in our parks. These are all the results of the work of one man. Without the efforts of Dr. Egolf and the USNA we would not have the great diversity of hardy and disease resistant Crape Myrtles we enjoy today. Few of us will ever leave such a lasting mark on the world.

After his passing many individuals and companies continued the work of Dr. Egolf and today we are blessed with a multitude of new types, sizes and colors of Crape Myrtles including ones with dark colored foliage and variegated flowers. These new introductions continue to broaden the appeal of this landscape plant. If you have a sunny location and are looking for a summer flowering deciduous tree or shrub (from 3’-40’) there is a Crape Myrtle for you. Thank Dr. Egolf when you plant one.

– Tait

New Weekly Email Series | Chesapeake Gardens #2

By Chesapeake Gardens No Comments

Welcome back to Chesapeake Garden – my weekly blog about plants, gardening and the world around us. I promised to talk about plants this week so let’s get right to it. I would like to introduce all of you to one of my favorite native perennials, Hibiscus moscheutos. Hibiscus moscheutos or Rose Mallow grows locally on the margins of our wetlands and waterways. It is a member of the plant Family Malvaceae (or Mallow family). Other important members of the Mallow Family are Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum and others), Cacao (Theobroma cacao (cocoa and chocolate), Okra (probably Abelmoschus ficulneus (this plant has been it cultivation for so long its origin is not certain)) and Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis (yup, this is where Marshmallows originally came from!)).

Like all perennials this plant begins to emerge in late spring, grows to its full height, flowers in summer and dies back to the ground by winter. It blooms in summer with large pink, red or white flowers with a darker magenta center. While most of the wild Rose Mallows have flowers that are up to 6” in diameter, the cultivated varieties can have flowers that are 10”-12” in diameter. And while the native plants can reach heights of 6’ in a single season, most of the newer cultivars are bred to only grow to between 2.5’-4.5’ in height and may have multicolored flowers and even purple foliage.

That’s enough about what it looks like and who it’s related to. Let’s talk about using it in our gardens. Hibiscus moscheutos should be used anywhere where we have six or more hours of sunlight and plenty of moisture. Have a wet spot you can’t figure out? Use Rose Mallow. Pool water killing your plants? Use Rose Mallow because it doesn’t mind chlorine (or salt for that matter!). It’s great at the back of the perennial border and is a staple of Rain Gardens. It’s a wonderful native that everyone should know and use in their gardens.

Next time I want to talk to you about the Hardy Crape Myrtle trees and how one man’s work can effect great change. Talk to you then.

– Tait

New Weekly Email Series | Chesapeake Gardens

By Chesapeake Gardens No Comments

I’d like to welcome you to Chesapeake Garden, a weekly blog about plants, gardening and the world around us. I am hoping you will find my ramblings to be informative, interesting and maybe a little irreverent. I have been a plant lover my whole life. From growing vegetables with my family, to taking trips to The National Arboretum, to learning all I could about edible and poisonous native plants – my life has revolved around plants. More than thirty years of my life have been spent as a professional Horticulturist and I just don’t know where the time went. It’s like I just wandered off the well-marked path to look at some interesting trees (something I’m known to do) for a few minutes and here I am decades later, still learning all I can about the plants around us (and still wandering off the path into the woods as often as I can). Well – enough of that! Let’s get this party started.

It is currently mid-summer here in Anne Arundel County, that means both the weather and the crabs are hot and steamy. Most days just breathing causes you to sweat and the relief from the thunderstorms only lasts until the sun comes out and turns the rain into a steam bath. We have had a strange year so far weather-wise. A long, deep cold period in late winter delayed many of our spring plants and damaged many others. If you are wondering why so many of the Crape Myrtles look half dead this year, late winter cold weather is to blame. Our late spring was very wet with some areas experiencing rain of historic proportions (Ellicott City may never be the same). And then just to show that the weather in this area is completely perverse the rain stopped, and the temperature soared, baking the ground as hard as pavement and stressing our plants severely. Now the tap is turned back on and it looks like it may rain for a week straight. To quote Rafiki from the Lion King “the weather, very peculiar”. Peculiar indeed. As a person who spends a good portion of my life outdoors I will tell you that this “very peculiar” weather is to be expected in a region that experiences four true seasons. I am often reminded of the old saw “If you don’t like the weather in Maryland, just wait five minutes”.

So how do you help your beloved weather stressed plants in this bizarre weather? In a word, water. I know you know that already, but here is the secret gleaned from many years of experience; you are probably watering your plants wrong. I don’t mean this as an accusation I am only trying to help. Just answer this one question. Do you have a spray nozzle or anything that requires you to squeeze a handle at the end of your hose? If so, then you are certainly watering your plants wrong. Just look around at the Garden Center, you will notice that all our hoses have a “water breaker” on the end. These “water breakers” are designed to deliver the full volume of water from the hose at very low pressure (for those of you who are already using a “water breaker” you may skip to the last paragraph). By comparison most “sprayers” (yes even the ones that have several settings including “shower”) are designed to provide low volume but high-pressure water, just the opposite of what you want. In fact, most “water breakers” provide ten times the volume of other types of nozzles in the same amount of time. This means that while I am watering my plants at a rate of five gallons per minute, you may be only providing half a gallon to yours all the while wondering why you are spending so much time watering without the plants looking any better. When it is hot and dry, newly planted and any plants showing signs of stress (wilting, dropping leaves) need five gallons of water per week, preferably in two waterings, three or four days apart. Trees and larger shrubs may need several times this amount. This means if you use your nozzle to water ten newly planted shrubs you may have to spend an hour watering twice a week. Who has that kind of time? Just get a water breaker and spend one minute per shrub and you will be good.

Next week I promise to talk about plants. I will feature one of our great native perennials -Hibiscus moscheutos. Talk to you next week and in the meantime try to keep cool and dry.