April 2007
How's Your Garden?

Life In a Pot Is What You Make It

Plants that you put in a container depend entirely on you for life-giving soil, food, and water, so be good to them. As the sun beats on a side of a pot, it heats the soil. Keep it cool by including a trailing plant such as ivy to shade the side of the container.

Also remember that the limited soil volume of a pot just doesn’t hold water as long as the ground. So, you need to water more often and choose plants that are forgiving if you miss a time or two! A water-retaining polymer mixed into your soil helps tremendously. Many Quality Co-ops carry Ferti-lome Moisture Controlled potting mix that includes a polymer, or you can buy pure polymer such as Soil Moist to mix into the soil yourself. Also, mulching the pot with stone, shredded bark, or even small pine cones is attractive and cuts down evaporation from the soil surface.

Because pots needs frequent watering, it’s a good idea to use a liquid fertilizer in addition to any timed-release products that you include in the soil when potting. If you grow palms, citrus, or other tropicals, beware of their extra need for micronutrients. Look for special palm or citrus fertilizers formulated especially for these plants.

Consider More Wildflowers

A wildflower meadow may be the perfect solution to an unsightly landscape or a problem place such as a soggy area or dry area. Years ago planting your own wildflower meadow was much trickier because of the wildflower seed mixes that were available. However, today’s wildflower seed mixes are more specialized and contain native perennials and annuals that reseed and thrive in specific regions of the country. Look for mixes that are suited to the Southeast and that specify whether they are for sun or shade.

Of course, success also depends on good soil prep and follow-up maintenance. Pulling up weedy plants, woody seedlings, and even a few annuals if they start to choke out other wildflowers will help keep your planting beautiful.
  Photo courtesy of All America Selections

Abundant Tomatoes

Enjoy your sandwich tomatoes this year by planting a number of varieties that include determinate and indeterminate types, as well as early and late types. This combination will stretch your harvest to the point where you’ll feel guilty leaving plants for vacation. Some tried and true varieties in Alabama include Early Girl, Better Boy, Big Beef, Super Fantastic, Celebrity, and Bonnie Hybrid. If you keep plants sprayed with Neem this summer to prevent insect and disease problems and if you use drip irrigation to keep up the moisture and prevent cracking, you’ll be in tomato heaven from June until nearly Thanksgiving.

Use Pebbles with Herbs

Tired of sage that looks like snuff by mid-summer? This trick passed to me by a well-known herb gardener in Texas works great for helping keep leaves in good condition in humidity: use pebbles as a mulch. It helps keep the leaves clean and dry so that they are less likely to ‘melt-out’ in summer. Even better, put your sage in a container to improve air circulation. When possible use a small, white, pea gravel because it is easy to handle, fits around plants well, and it reflects light back onto the leaves.

Firewise Landscaping?

Wildfires out West get the most publicity, but anyone who lives in a wooded area of Alabama subject to forest fire is all too aware of the potential threat to property here, too. The Alabama Forestry Commission offers a helpful bulletin, Firewise Landscaping for Woodland Homes, which gives helpful guidelines on how to establish a line of defense against the threat of wildfire by creating a safety zone around your house. The idea is to break the chain of flammable fuel between the home and the forest. The landscape plants that you choose and where you put them could make a difference in the susceptibility of your home. To learn more, download the bulletin from the commission’s website at www.forestry.state.al.us and click on "publications," or contact the Alabama Forestry Commission at 334-240-9300.

Brown Patch Waits for You

If your lawn had problems with this disease last year, it’s time to get out the arsenal of fungicides to wipe out the problem before it begins this year. This is the most damaging fungus disease of St. Augustine, Zoysia, and Centipede in the state. It begins as small, round, brown areas several inches in diameter in the lawn, but you may not notice it until the patch has grown to several feet in diameter. Eventually, patches will blend together so that the entire lawn looks blighted.

The fungus usually develops during wet, cloudy weather when the temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees for several days. If you have St. Augustine or Zoysia, which tend to develop a thick layer of thatch, rent a vertical rake (de-thatching machine), which will rip the thatch out of your lawn. Be forewarned that the grass will be very torn up looking for a few weeks after raking, but the process improves long-term health.

When fertilizing again, use a timed-release product to avoid a surge of nitrogen, which encourages the disease. Also remember, don’t fertilize Centipede more than once a year (in the spring).

Spray fungicides (benomyl or chlorothalonil) on lawns that were previously damaged by this disease as soon as any symptoms appear.

New Life for an Old Truck

I wanted to share this clever idea from one of my gardening neighbors, who converted a small, red, metal toy truck into a tiny garden planter for a detail in her garden bed. The truck bed has a few holes drilled in the bottom for drainage.

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