May 2008
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

By Lois Trigg Chaplin

Leafy Contrasts
In recent years, the nursery industry has introduced so many beautiful plants grown for their foliage. Summer is the best time for these since many are tropical plants that love heat and humidity. Consider silver-leafed Plectrantus; orange, red or lime-green coleus; black elephant’s ear; Purple Heart; pink perilla or others you are sure to find in garden centers now. By combining contrasting leaf colors you will create a magnificent display unique for its foliage instead of flowers.

Tomatoes Resistant to Spotted Wilt Virus

Tomato spotted wilt virus has been on the rampage across the Southeast in recent years and there isn’t much one can do about it once plants are infected. Fortunately, breeders have been working to develop resistant varieties.These include Health Kick, Mr. America, BHN 640, Amelia and Southern Star, all of which are offered by Bonnie Plants. If you wonder what this disease looks like, a good spot for pictures is the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s online brochure that covers various wilt diseases of tomatoes. You can access it at

Keep Mint in Check

Have you ever had mint just take over a pot or garden bed? You can tame this great but unruly herb by planting it in a pot within a pot. This way you can mix other herbs in the container without it running all over the place. Of course, it will stay out of the ground, too, at least for a while. However, don’t put it past mint to eventually outgrow its little pot, then shoot roots down through the big pot and into the soil, but this would take a couple of seasons and by that time you’ll be changing out the plants in the container.

Mexican Bean Beetles Multiply Fast

These pests will have a giant, multi-generational family reunion on your beans soon unless you are ready for them. They appear in the spring to feed on limas, green beans and black-eyed peas, chewing on the leaves and pods. Actually, adult beetles may have spent the winter in your garden, emerging from garden rubbish in warm weather to lay eggs. The eggs hatch into bright yellow, spiny little larvae. Although the spines look hurtful, they are not. The larvae eat the tender tissue between the veins of the leaves, always working on the underside. Often you don’t know these pests are present until you spot the damage. They multiply quickly and can ravage an entire planting. Be prepared to spray with pyrethroid product or other pesticide labeled for bean beetles on vegetables. Although they look like a little like ladybugs, these beetles are not beneficial.

Hostas are Great for Pots

Surprisingly, hostas also make excellent container plants. Tucked away in niches of the garden, they come up on their own in the spring and remain until late fall, making for a very easy-care pot. If you plant them in a pretty ceramic vessel, the colorful container can serve as a winter ornament while the hosta takes a short rest. Now is a good time to buy hostas because they are leafed out in their containers so you can see what the leaf color and pattern looks like. The best hostas for containers are the small to medium-sized ones and the strap-leafed varieties.

Hydrangea Chemistry

Old-fashioned French hydrangeas reflect the pH of the soil in their flower color. If you want your flowers to be blue next year, sprinkle aluminum sulfate on the soil around your plants to make the soil more acidic and add aluminum. If you want them to bloom pink, sprinkle some hydrated or pelletized lime around the plants. You’ll need to repeat this about once a year to keep the color stable. Unfortunately, it is probably too late to see much of a difference in flower color this year, but now is the time it comes to mind because these flowers begin blooming in late May in the warmer parts of our state.

Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.