Ken's musings:

The Peonies are coming! The Peonies are coming!
A Quest for the Southern Peony

The Auburn University Horticulture Department and its partners have begun a project that will hopefully be a dream realized for many garden enthusiasts and will put some added color and excitement in April southern gardens and landscapes. Peonies, which are normally thought of as a high altitude or northern plant, may have some adapted cultivars that will tolerate our southern heat and humidity. Early research indicators and the love of gardening and support by Bill and Faye Ireland of Birmingham have helped launch a “Quest for the Southern Peony”.

If you want to see the peonies and skip the “PLAN” hit this link to view the collection of peonies being purchased from Shen Huang and distributed to planting sites across the state.

The Story and the Plan:
As with many opportunities in research, The AU Peony Project was inspired by chance. Dr. Ken Tilt, Dr. Jeff Sibley and two graduate students traveled to Wuhan, China 3 years ago in search of new landscape plant opportunities. They were visiting one of AU Horticulture’s previous PhD graduates, Dr. Hongwen Huang, who is now Director of the Wuhan Scientific Institute of Botany. They spotted in the Institute Gardens a large planting of peonies nestled in a high shade garden. Wuhan is in southern China and offers a similar climate to Mobile. The plants were beautiful and they recognized the possible opportunity for Alabama landscape gardeners. Timing would not allow collections of the plants at that time because it was early summer. They made a note to do a literature review and be prepared to collect divisions on the next trip.

Another trip was made in winter/spring 2003 and several cultivars were collected for evaluation in cooperation with Carolina Nurseries in Monks Corner, SC. The September 11 bombing of the World Trade Towers resulted in extremely strict controls over anything coming into the United States. We collected 10 of each cultivar to bring into the United States but the customs inspectors allowed only one of each. We were fortunate to find and partner with Mr. Shen Huang of Golden Port Peonies in Lawrenceville, GA. Through his commercial channels in China he helped us import some of the same selections as well as others he thought had an opportunity for success from his trials. Mr. Huang has had over a 1000 cultivars of tree peonies and several 100 cultivars of herbaceous peonies in his garden. Over the past 5 to 6 years Shen has had his own trials in our southern heat which has reduced his collection to 20% of his original planting. Combining Shen Huang’s knowledge with one of the great American peony breeders and producers, Roy Klehm from Songsparrow Perennial Farm in Wisconsin, we were able to collect enough peony selections to begin an initial screening of herbaceous peonies. Tree peonies were not targeted because they take too long to evaluate in a beginning research program. Replicated trials were initiated in Anniston and Brewton, AL, and Charleston, SC. Additional non-replicated plantings were installed in Auburn and LaGrange, GA.

First observations at these locations from Anniston in the north to Brewton in the South as well as Charleston, SC at Carolina Nurseries and Auburn show some early and promising results. An abnormally wet spring and summer quickly showed the potential of this plant to suffer from Botrytis, a foliar disease and another variable to evaluate.

However, with this encouragement and a Federal Initiative seed grant and support from Carolina Nurseries, they assembled a team and developed a mission for a Southern Peony Project at Auburn University and the Department of Horticulture. With peonies being China’s national flower and loved and cherished by over a billion people in China and appreciated by people around the world, the team thought searching and developing selections for the South would be an honorable, fun, exciting, and potentially profitable project for Alabama and other southern nurseries and landscape firms.

Below is a plan for the next several years to realize the goal of a southern garden peony.

Mission: The mission for the Peony Project is to introduce adaptable herbaceous peony species and cultivars to the Southeast and develop best management practices for their establishment and growth in nurseries and landscapes. Goals and objectives include:

Current Project Team Participants:
Dr. Ken Tilt, Auburn University Horticulture (Production)
Dr. Jeff Sibley, Auburn University Horticulture (Production)
Dr. Raymond Kessler, Auburn University Horticulture (Herbaceous Trial Gardens)
Dr. Amy Wright, Auburn University Horticulture (Landscape Research)
Dr. Austin Hagan, Auburn University Plant Pathology (Disease Research)
Dr. Fenny Dane, Auburn University Horticulture (Tisssue culture and breeding)
Mr. Randy Akridge, Superintendent, AU Brewton Experiment Station
Mr. Arnold Caylor, Superintendent, AU North Alabama Experiment Station
Dr. Hongwen Huang, Director, Wuhan Institute of Botanical Sciences, Wuhan, China
Mr. Shen Huang, Golden Port Peonies, Lawrenceville, GA
Mr. and Mrs. William Ireland, Birmingham, AL
Mr. and Mrs. Jay Guy, Carolina Nurseries, Charleston, SC
Mr. Fred Spicer, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Birmingham, AL
Mr. Harvey Cotton, Huntville Botanical Gardens, Huntsville, AL
Mr. Hayes Jackson, Alabama Cooperative Extension Service Agent and Graduate Student, Anniston, AL (Species/cultivar evaluation)
Mr. Wayne Chesnut and Calloway Gardens, LaGrange, GA, Graduate Student (BMP development)
Mr. and Mrs. H.D. Norman, Pinetucket Foundation, Auburn, AL (home garden evaluation)

Where are we now?
After having some initial success and hopes raised, the research efforts caught the attention of Mr. and Mrs. William Ireland. Mrs. Faye Ireland is a long-time gardening enthusiast and generous benefactor of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens (as well as a weekly volunteer in the gardens) and Auburn University. The Irelands provided a gift of $48,000 to the Auburn University College of Agriculture Foundation and designated the funds for use in The AU Peony Project in the Department of Horticulture.

The funds are targeted to support a two year graduate student and the purchase and distribution of Mr. Shen Huang’s private peony collection by January of 2004 to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Huntsville Botanical Gardens and other trial sites across the state. About 150 of the tree peony cultivars surviving from the original 1000 planted by Shen Huang will have priority spots in the public gardens for evaluation (of course Mrs. Ireland humbly requested a few to enjoy in her garden, a request the team will honor with a smile and a thank you). The herbaceous peonies will first go to the research stations for research trials with left over plants going to the public gardens. The new graduate student will serve as a link between China and Auburn to identify and select additional cultivars with potential to grow in the south and further develop the initial work on tissue culture of peonies. All the current peony selections are named and not available for patenting in the US. This new student, along with the Peony team, will identify breeding opportunities to enhance the qualities of peonies for use in the south and to develop new cultivars with the potential for funding future work in this area.

Hayes Jackson is a plant enthusiast, Calhoun County Extension Agent, and owner of a nationally known garden in Anniston, AL. Hayes is also working on his PhD at Auburn and is in charge of the cultivar evaluation research. Mr. Wayne Chesnut is a retired Extension agent from LaGrange, GA who is also working on a Masters degree in horticulture at Auburn and is in charge of the production and landscape establishment research. He has a disease evaluation planting in LaGrange and will be planting a research project in Cullman at the North Alabama research station to evaluate soil types, light requirements and aspect (orientation in the landscape). The new graduate student arriving from China, hopefully by this summer, will be building on some early tissue culture propagation research and genetic identification of species relationships for breeding purposes.

This is a special, exciting project with promising opportunities for our southern gardens and commercial horticulturists. Please look at our web site under peonies and follow the research process with us. If you are a peony enthusiast, we are mostly true southerners and low on the learning curve. We have had a couple of people offer grandmother heritage peonies, which have done well in their gardens, to the project for evaluation. Call or email us if you can offer some information in this area. Follow our progress on the web site or roll up you sleeves and join us. The Peony Quest Begins!


The following articles are featured in this month's Something to Grow On:






DISCLAIMER: Please remember that all information presented is a summary of research and not an endorsement of any product or a recommendation of chemicals. The official labels from the manufacturing companies offer the legal and proper use and handling information for all products.


You won't want to miss this conference. Projects at the demonstration site are showing significant results - some may change the way you do business. The conference is scheduled for December 4 - 5, 2003 at the University of Florida Conference Center Gainesville and the GSTC Demonstration site. You will observe cutting edge techniques, get tips from the experts and CEUs for all segments of the industry. Some of the topics and presenters are as follows:

Contact the FNGA office at 800-375-3642. For a schedule of events go to


Officials broke ground at the new $10 million Southern Horticultural Laboratory. The USDA facility in Poplarville, Mississippi should open in December 2004. Research at the lab will focus on improved ornamental cultivars and improved nursery/landscape practices for the Gulf Coast region. The 30,000 sq. ft. facility will accommodate 50 scientists and also research food crops. For more information go to

(from Weekly NMPRO e-mail for Oct. 28, 2003, Todd Davis, Editor)


Charlie Parkerson, owner of Lancaster Farms in Suffolk, Virginia, was named the Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year. The prize includes $19,000 in cash and gifts valued at $10,000. Parkerson beat out finalists from 7 other states, and was the only finalist from the nursery industry. Others were primarily row-crop farmers. Parkerson was the NMPRO Nursery Grower of the Year in 2002. For more information go to:

(from Weekly NMPRO e-mail for Oct. 28, 2003, Todd Davis, Editor)


Jackie Mullen
Extension Plant Pathology Specialist

Many of the 144 plant samples received in September were ornamentals and turf. Some of the diseases/problems seen included the following: shrubs/trees dying back from root problems that may relate to the abnormally wet conditions of last spring and early summer; Exserohilum and Drechslera leaf spots and crown rots in bermuda and zoysia; Phytophthora root rot affecting Fatsia, Leyland cypress, rose, and Eleagnus; southern blight on Hosta; tip blight of juniper; Cercosporidium blight on Leyland cypress and bald cypress.

Several different types of ornamental shrubs and trees from all areas of the state are showing dieback, wilt, leaf edge scorch, and yellowing. We have found root or vascular disease in a few situations, but mostly we have not found disease associated with these plants. We believe that many of these dieback situations relate to root damage from the excessive rains last spring and early summer. Oaks are especially sensitive to drought and fluctuating water tables. Many conifers, such as junipers, will not tolerate “wet feet”. The only help for these root-damaged plants is to keep soil in a non-stress situation, i.e., irrigate well once a week when dry and moderately fertilize next spring.

During late September and early October, we have been seeing crown rots of bermuda and zoysia caused by Helminthosporium-type (Exserohilum and Drechslera) fungi. These fungi are often associated with nutrient deficient or otherwise stressed bermudagrasses. Soil testing is recommended when Helminthosporium diseases develop. When disease is severe, fungicides may be recommended. See ANR-621 and the Pest Management Handbook for more information.

Phytophthora root decay was diagnosed on Fatsia, Leyland cypress, rose, and Eleagnus. The wet conditions (I’m starting to sound like a broken record or CD!) of last spring, early summer were very favorable for Phytophthora root rot development. With landscape situations, control typically involves removal of damaged plants; improving water drainage conditions, if appropriate; reducing irrigation schedules, if appropriate. Protective fungicide drenches are typically recommended only for greenhouse, nurseries, or other commercial situations involving crops of high market value. See the Alabama Pest Management Handbook for Phytophthora root disease fungicide treatment under specific crops.

Southern blight (Sclerotium rolfsii) was diagnosed on Hosta which often becomes infected with this fungus when conditions are hot and humid/moist. S. rolfsii has a wide host range and is capable of causing crown rot disease on many ornamentals, vegetables, and field crops. As a soil borne fungus, it is difficult to control. In some situations of small garden areas in sunny locations, solarization may be used as a control treatment. Crop rotation is not usually practical because so many plants are susceptible to S. rolfsii. Deep turning under of root zone layer soil or replacement of root zone layer soil is (unpractical in many situations) another control option. The fungicides Heritage, Contrast, and PCNB type fungicides (Defend, Revere, or Terraclor) are labeled for use on some plants to provide protective disease control. These fungicides are mostly intended for the commercial market. Terraclor is labeled for use on some vegetables and is available for homeowner use.

Phomopsis tip blight of junipers (including red cedar, and related evergreens) is typically a summer (warm weather) disease. Shoot tips become yellow and later brown. Lower foliage is often affected first, and then blight spreads inward into the foliage and upward. Twig cankers develop which are the cause of the dieback. Planting of resistant juniper cultivars is the best control strategy. Planting junipers in areas of good sunlight, good soil drainage and good air circulation are other good practices. Damaged shoots should be pruned out, making cuts 3 inches beyond the damaged margins. When disease has been a problem, protective fungicide use should be considered. See the AL Pest Management Handbook. Cleary’s 3336, Halt, Dithane, Fore, or Zyban may be used. Cercosporidium (formerly called Cercospora) blight has been a very common problem on Leyland cypresses this summer-early fall. Typically, lower foliage is infected first with symptoms of blight evident. A microscopic examine frequently will reveal the Cercosporidium fruiting bodies and spores. Control strategies are similar to control of Phomopsis tip blight. Fungicides labeled for use on Leyland cypress for protective control of Cercosporidium are listed in the AL Pest Management Handbook. We recently saw Cercosporella blight on bald cypress. John Olive also reported seeing Cercosporidium as a common problem on Leyland cypress in the Mobile area recently. See additional comments and images by J. Jacobi.

SEPTEMBER 2003 Plant Diseases Seen In The Auburn Plant Diagnostic Lab
AnemoneSouthern Blight (Sclerotium rolfsii)DeKalb
ArborvitaePythium Root RotCalhoun
AzaleaColletotrichum Leaf SpotAutauga
AzaleaNectria CankerMarshall
Bald CypressCercosporidium Blight *
BermudaBrown Patch (Rhizoctonia)Elmore, Mobile, Montgomery
BermudaExserohilum (Helminthosporium) Leaf Spot & Crown RotButler, Choctaw
BitterweedAlternaria BlightChoctaw
BoxwoodPhytophthora Root RotMontgomery
BoxwoodPythium Root RotDeKalb
BoxwoodRhizoctonia Aerial BlightBullock
BoxwoodVolutella Cankers/BlightDeKalb
Canna LilyFusarium Crown DecayCalhoun
CentipedeBrown Patch (Rhizoctonia)Elmore, Mobile, Montgomery
Crape MyrtleCercospora Leaf SpotChoctaw
EleagnusColletotrichum Leaf Spot/CankerMontgomery
ElmPhyllosticta Leaf SpotMontgomery
FatsiaColletotrichum Leaf BlotchMontgomery
FatsiaPhytophthora Root RotMontgomery
Grancy Gray BeardAlgal Leaf Spot (Cephaleuros)Choctaw
HostaSouthern Blight (Sclerotium rolfsii)Washington
JuniperPhomopsis Tip BlightMontgomery
Juniper-Red CedarPestalotia BlightDallas
Leyland CypressCercosporidium BlightAutauga, Calhoun, Lee, Mobile
Leyland CypressPhytophthora Root RotCovington, Elmore
LilacPhyllosticta Leaf SpotChoctaw
Lily, Star GazerFusarium Bulb & Root DecayCullman
MagnoliaBlack Mildew *
Oak, LivePowdery Mildew *
PoinsettiaFusarium Stem Rot *
RoseFungal Canker DiseaseBullock
RosePhytophthora Crown & Root RotBullock
RosePythium Crown & Root RotBullock
SalviaColletotrichum Stem DecayLee
SalviaPythium Root RotLee
St.AugustineTake-All Patch (Gaeumannomyces graminis var. graminis)Autauga, Choctaw
Tea OliveLeaf Spot-Cercospora & Colletotrichum Associated *
YauponPhyllosticta Leaf SpotLee
YauponVolutella BlightLee
ZoysiaDrechslera Crown & Leaf BlightLowndes
ZoysiaTake-All Patch (Gaeumannomyces graminis var. graminisJefferson(2)
*Counties are not reported for greenhouse and nursery samples.

J. Jacobi
Extension Plant Pathology Specialist

The lab received 104 samples during the month of September. Some of the problems seen last month included: root knot nematode on begonia, Cercosporidium (formerly Cercospora) needle blight on Leyland cypress and giant sequoia, two-lined spittlebug damage on holly, broad mites on English ivy, and brown patch on zoysiagrass.

Cercosporidium needle blight (Cercosporidium sequoiae) was common this summer in landscapes due to our wet summer. This disease typically starts in the lower canopy and causes needle blight and defoliation that progresses up the tree and out towards the branch tips. Infected needles turn reddish brown and drop. Cercosporidium blight usually begins in the lower branches and progresses upward. In severe cases, only the newest needles on the branch tips remain green. Repeated infections over several years may result in complete defoliation and tree death. For more information on the identification and control of this disease, see extension publication ANR-1196, Cercospora Needle Blight on Leyland Cypress (

SEPTEMBER 2003 Plant Diseases Seen In The Birmingham Plant Diagnostic Lab
AbeliaCercospora Leaf SpotJefferson
AltheaScentless Plant BugsJefferson
AzaleaAnthracnose (Colletotrichum)Jefferson
AzaleaCercospora Leaf SpotJefferson
Azalea, NativeCercospora Leaf SpotJefferson
BegoniaRoot Knot Nematode (Meloidogyne)Jefferson
BentgrassPythium Root Rot *
BermudagrassBipolaris Leaf SpotJefferson
CotoneasterPhyllosticta Leaf SpotJefferson
Cypress, LeylandCercosporidium Needle BlightJefferson (2)
Dogwood, FloweringCercospora Leaf SpotTuscaloosa
Dogwood, KousaLeaf ScorchShelby
EuonymusEuonymus ScaleJefferson
GardeniaCitrus Whiteflies (Dialeurodes)Jefferson
Holly, ChineseWalnut Scale(Quadraspidiotus)Jefferson
Holly, ChineseTwo-Lined SpittlebugShelby
Holly, JapaneseTwo-Lined Spittlebug DamageJefferson (4)
Holly, JapanesePythium Root RotJefferson
HoneylocustCercospora Leaf SpotJefferson
Hydrangea, BigleafPowdery MildewJefferson
HypericumRust (Uromyces)Jefferson
ImpatiensRoot Knot Nematode (Meloidogyne)Jefferson
IrisBacterial Soft Rot (Erwinia)Jefferson
Ivy, Algerian Phytophthora BlightJefferson
Ivy, EnglishBroad Mites (Polyphagotarsonemus) *
Maple, RedBlack Twig Borer (Xylosandrus)Jefferson
Maple, RedPhyllosticta Leaf SpotJefferson
Maple, RedSeptoria Leaf SpotJefferson
Maple, RedWalnut Scale (Quadraspidiotus)Jefferson
Oak, SawtoothTubakia Leaf Spot (formerly Actinopelte)Jefferson
PecanGnomonia Leaf SpotTuscaloosa
Pine, WhiteSooty Mold (Capnodium)Jefferson
RhododendronCercospora Leaf SpotJefferson
RhododendronRust (Pucciniastrum)Jefferson
RoseArmillaria Root RotShelby
RoseBlack SpotShelby
Sequoia, GiantCercosporidium Needle BlightJefferson
St. AugustineChinch BugsJefferson
ZoysiaBrown Patch (Rhizoctonia)Jefferson
ZoysiaDollar Spot (Sclerotinia)Jefferson/Shelby
ZoysiaPythium BlightJefferson

*Counties are not reported for greenhouse and nursery samples.

Disease Possibilities For October
Disease plant samples usually decline in October. As temperatures drop, the summer field and garden crop season is largely over, and the fall-winter plantings of small grains have not yet begun or are just beginning. But, we still commonly see forage problems, landscape ornamental problems, greenhouse/nursery crop problems, vegetables from fall gardens, and field plantings of vegetables in the southern-most sections of the state.

With pansies in the fall, watch for black root rot on pansies and Myrothecium crown rot.

Helminthosporium-type leaf spots are common on grasses in the fall when temperatures are in the 60-70EC range.

Please note new address:
Plant Diagnostic Lab
ALFA Agricultural Services and Research Bldg.
961 South Donahue Drive
Auburn University, AL 36849-5624

Also, Dr. Charles Ray, who is doing many of the insect identifications and insect requests coming to the Auburn lab, is in the process of moving to the ALFA Building.

Soil samples for nematode analysis should be submitted soon before freezing temperatures occur. Clients in the northern sections of the state, especially, should not delay in collecting these samples.


January 29 - 31, 2004:
Gulf States Horticultural Expo
Mobile Convention Center, Mobile, AL
Educational program: January 29; Trade Show: January 30 - 31. For more information go to; fax 334-502-7711; phone 334-502-7777.

July 29 - 31, 2004:
SNA 2004 - Southern Nursery Association Researcher’s Conference and Trade Show.
Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, GA.
Contact: SNA 770-953-3311; Fax 770-953-4411; SNA Infoline, 770-953-4636

August 26-28, 2004:
The Farwest Show. Portland, Oregon, Oregon Convention Center.
Contact Aimee Schendel, Oregon Association of Nurserymen, 29751 SW Town Center Loop West, Wilsonville, OR 97070; 800-342-6401; 503-682-5089 x 2006; Fax, 503-682-5099; e-mail,;

October 1-2, 2004:
Middle Tennessee Nursery Association Horticultural Trade Show.
McMinnville Civic Center, McMinnville, TN
Contact Ann Halcomb, MTNA Exec. Secr., P.O. Box 822, McMinnville, TN 37111-0822; phone: 931-668-7322; fax: 931-668-9601; e-mail:, or

October 3-6, 2004:
IPPS Southern Region NA
Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C.
Contact: Dr. David L. Morgan, 332 Warbler Drive, Bedford, TX 76021; phone 817-577-9272; e-mail,

August 25-27, 2005:
The Farwest Show.
Portland, Oregon, Oregon Convention Center.
Contact Aimee Schendel, Oregon Association of Nurserymen, 29751 SW Town Center Loop West, Wilsonville, OR 97070; 800-342-6401; 503-682-5089 x 2006; Fax, 503-682-5099; e-mail,

September TBA, 2005:
The Southern Plant Conference.
Louisville, Kentucky.
Contact: Matt Gardiner, KY Coordinator, 502-245-0238: e-mail,; or Betsie Taylor, KNLA Exec. Dir., 350 Village Drive, Frankfort, KY 40601; 502-848-0055 or 800-735-9791, Fax 502-848-0032 e-mail
or Danny Summers at SNA, 770-953-3311; Fax 770-953-4411; SNA Infoline, 770-953-4636; e-mail,;

September 30 - October 1, 2005:
Middle Tennessee Nursery Association Horticultural Trade Show.
McMinnville Civic Center, McMinnville, TN
For more information contact Ann Halcomb by: phone: 931-668-7322; fax: 931-668-9601; e-mail:, or

August 24-26, 2006:
The Farwest Show.
Portland, Oregon, Oregon Convention Center.
Contact Aimee Schendel, Oregon Association of Nurserymen, 29751 SW Town Center Loop West, Wilsonville, OR 97070; 800-342-6401; 503-682-5089 x 2006; Fax, 503-682-5099; e-mail,

October 6-7, 2006:
Middle Tennessee Nursery Association Horticultural Trade Show.
McMinnville Civic Center, McMinnville, TN
For more information contact Ann Halcomb by: phone: 931-668-7322; fax: 931-668-9601; e-mail:, or

August 23-25, 2007:
The Farwest Show.
Portland, Oregon, Oregon Convention Center.
Contact Aimee Schendel, Oregon Association of Nurserymen, 29751 SW Town Center Loop West, Wilsonville, OR 97070; 800-342-6401, 503-682-5089 x 2006; Fax, 503.682.5099; e-mail,

October 5-6, 2007:
Middle Tennessee Nursery Association Horticultural Trade Show.
McMinnville Civic Center, McMinnville, TN
For more information contact Ann Halcomb by: phone: 931-668-7322; fax: 931-668-9601; e-mail:, or

Send horticultural questions and comments to

Send questions and comments to

Letters to Bernice Fischman - 101 Funchess Hall - Auburn University, AL 36849.