April 2008
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

By Lois Trigg Chaplin

Help Pots Through Drought

Now that you are ready to plant seasonal flowers and other items in pots, take time to add water-retaining polymers to the potting soil. Come June, you’ll be glad you did. Once hydrated, polymers look like little bits of gelatin, each acting as a water reservoir for roots. They can cut in half the number of times you have to water. Follow package directions carefully when mixing them into the soil so you don’t end up with too little or too much, neither of which is helpful.

Heirloom Tomatoes Balance Care with Flavor

Heirloom tomatoes are getting a lot of press these days. Mystique and charm surrounds many old tomatoes, some of which, like Mortgage Lifter, have interesting stories. This spring Bonnie Plants boosted their list of heirloom tomatoes and other varieties, presenting a good chance for you to again grow, or try for the first time, some old varieties generally noted for their outstanding, "old-fashioned" flavor. Most heirlooms don’t have quite the disease resistance of modern hybrids — that’s the tradeoff. Be prepared to spray with a fungicide or grow them in a container to avoid soil-borne problems. Some heirlooms on Bonnie’s list this spring include Arkansas Traveler, Black Prince, Marion, German Queen, Rutgers, Pink Brandywine, and Pink and Red Beefsteaks. Availability varies with location.

Kerria - Old Shrub for Current Times

The first time I saw kerria (Kerria japonica) was in a giant flower arrangement where its long arching branches shot up overhead like yellow fireworks from a tall vase. Since then I have learned this old shrub is really tough and drought tolerant. I have enjoyed one in my garden for years.

There are two forms of kerria, a single flowered (pictured here) and a double flowered. Both are upright shrubs with tall, arching green, slightly zigzag stems. The stems alone add striking lines to a flower arrangement, never mind the flowers. Given the current need for landscape items that can endure long periods of dry weather, keep a lookout for this shrub, whether from a nursery selling old-fashioned plants or a division from a friend’s garden.

Now is a good time to plant container-grown nursery stock, but wait until fall if you dig from a garden. Be prepared to water even kerria the first spring and summer so its roots become established. Give it a spot with good drainage and partial shade.

How to Plant Peat Pots

Planting flowers, vegetables or herbs grown in peat pots makes planting easy. However, peat pots need to be moist when they go into the ground to be sure they absorb soil moisture after planting. Also trim away the very top rim of the pot so there is no chance the pot is exposed to air above ground. If so, it can wick soil moisture from the roots. Some gardeners tear away the bottom of the pot, too, to be sure the roots are instantly in contact with the ground.

Pick Blooms off New Strawberry Plants? Ouch!

"Pick blossoms the first year." That is what the label on many strawberry plants you buy now will tell you. Can you bear to do this and give up the first year’s harvest? If you do, your plants will be more vigorous and will yield a better harvest the second year. If you don’t the plants will be fine, but they will spend lots of energy fruiting instead of getting bigger for next year, therefore yielding less. I guess one way around this is to plant more!

Trim Back Woody Herbs

If you haven’t already inspected thyme, sage, marjoram, rosemary and other woody perennial herbs in your garden, do so now. Trim out dead wood and snip back older stems by a third or so to encourage branching. Plants can get one-sided or open in the center, so reshape as needed. After the last frost, fertilize with a liquid plant food like 20-20-20 or fish emulsion to help boost new growth.

Do Radishes Repel Squash Vine Borers?

Squash vine borers have always given me fits, often rendering my zucchini and yellow squash plants useless long before they finished producing. This year I am going to try a trick shared by another gardener: plant radishes in the hill among the squash seed or transplants. The borers stay away. I have searched garden Internet forums on this topic and found one gardener who in using this technique makes a one-foot diameter circle of radishes around the squash seed combined with a mulch of foil (reflective properties confuse egg-laying borers moths). Sounds worth trying. If you have a sure-fire technique for controlling squash vine borers, please share them This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.?subject=From%20alafarmnews.com">at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If I get enough responses, I’ll report back to you in a future column.

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