May 2007
How's Your Garden?


Annual Sunflowers: Big Show at Little Cost

Give your garden a huge pick-me-up with tiny packets of sunflowers. An abundance of sunflower varieties range from single-stalked giant types to multi-branched, smaller-flowered, shrub-like types. All make a big, beautiful show visible in your garden from a distance. A friend of mine once described certain plants as "50-mile an hour plants," referring to the fact that they catch the eye of
 
  Mammoth Sunflower
passers-by. Sunflowers certainly fit.

I have grown both types of sunflowers; each has its advantage. There is nothing quite like a towering, 8-foot, single-stalked sunflower such as Mammoth. Its flower is bigger than a dinner plate and the birds will indeed eventually make a nice dinner from its gray, striped seeds. My daughter called it a "garden hotel" when she saw all the critters on it including friendly ants and leaf-footed plant bugs, which might not be so friendly if in large numbers. It is a great plant for show and also to impress children and grandchildren.

The smaller-flowered branching type sunflowers come in many colors from lemon yellow to rusty reds to near mahogany. They are beautiful in flowerbeds and extra nice to cut and bring indoors. In fact, a row of these in a vegetable garden will give you a great source of cut flowers for many weeks in the summer if you keep cutting the blooms. As long as you don’t let the plants go to seed, they will keep making more branches and flowers. You will also need to water and feed them occasionally. Toward the end of the season, leave some flowers to make seed for birds to feed on in the fall.

You still have time to plant seeds. At $2 or so a packet, they will pay for themselves many times over.


Late and Re-blooming Azaleas

You think the azalea show is over, but indeed it is not. There are azaleas that bloom as late as June in fact, if you sniff around to find them. Gumpo is one line that has been around for a long time, and there are others. Also the well-publicized Encore azaleas are rebloomers; they bloom big in spring and continue blooming several times through the season if given enough light and nutrients. So, if you really love azaleas, there are now ways to enjoy them more than two weeks of the year.


 
Branching Sunflowers  
Hydrangeas are Starting

It’s time to think about hydrangeas as they begin blooming this month, especially if you’ve been telling yourself that you want to add some to your garden. One way to pick your favorites is to visit your local garden center in May and June. French hydrangeas that range from medium pink to deep purple are available now and soon the oakleaf, peegee, Annabelle and others will come into bloom. Tardiva is a late summer hydrangea that grows in North Alabama. Find a place in your garden for as many types as you can and you will enjoy their blooms for many weeks. One good place to see many hydrangea varieties in bloom is at Aldridge Botanical Gardens in Hoover that is dedicated primarily to the collection and display of hydrangeas. Eddie and Kay Aldridge, of ‘Snowflake’ hydrangea fame, founded the 30-acre gardens on the site of their former home. You can scout it via their website at www.aldridge gardens.com. Check the calendar of events for the hydrangea forum on Saturday, June 8.


Petunias Need a Pinch

If you planted petunias earlier this spring, it is time to give them a hard pinch. By trimming a few inches off the plants and removing the old flowers, you will rejuvenate the plants. It used to be that petunias were great in cool weather and grew gradually more useless in the heat, but the newer varieties are quite heat tolerant. Just a little grooming now will help keep them looking good through summer.


Plant Tomatoes Deeply

I mentioned this in an earlier column, but let me remind you again. Plant tomatoes very deeply. You can bury all but the top 20% of the plant. New roots will sprout from the buried stems to make your plants extra strong and better rooted to withstand the difficulties of hot summer weather.


 
  An old stocking can be recycled and used to tie your tomato plants to their stakes.
New Life for Old Stockings

Ladies, save your ruined stockings. They make great tomato ties—soft, flexible and they don’t break. Cut your old stockings into 8-inch strips and use them to tie tomatoes (or other plants) to their stakes. They won’t skin tender tomato stems, and they don’t rot easily.


Lenten Roses Like a Little Lime

Although they will do well enough if left alone, you might be surprised what a little bit of lime can do for your Lenten roses. The plants do grow in acid soil, but when the pH is near neutral they tend to bloom better.


Forgiving Flowers for Summer Containers

There are always a few flowers that seem to thrive in the heat. Good choices for containers in full sun are lantana, tropical hibiscus and plumbago. In shade, flowers are fewer, but consider mixing pretty foliage such as begonias or even hosta (perennial) with asparagus fern. Angel wing begonia is another tough beauty for shade. All of these are forgiving if you should miss a watering. If you go away for a while, move your pots to the shade if possible and place them in a baby pool or other large reservoir of water. Of course, you could always get someone to water while you are away. Either way, plants in containers need water, so don’t leave them to the chances of rain while you are away.

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