February 2007
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?




Valentine’s Flowers

If you get a nice pot of flowering bulbs for Valentine’s Day, plant them outdoors after they bloom to enjoy them again and again. As soon as the blooms fade, move them out, setting tulips, daffodils, or any bulbs into the ground at the depth they are growing in the container. Fertilize with a bulb booster fertilizer when you plant. Tulips succeed best in North Alabama gardens while paperwhites and amaryllis do best in the southern part of the state.

Oh, So Sweet Peas

To enjoy the lovely fragrance of old-fashioned sweet pea flowers in your home and garden this spring, plant seeds now. Timing is important because the plants need cool weather. Once it gets hot, they dry up.
Soak seeds overnight before planting. Even though the soil is cold, sweet peas will germinate during a winter warm spell. Just be sure that the soil is well drained so that they don’t rot while waiting.

Enjoy your peas on a fence or wire trellis where they can climb. To encourage lots of bloom, you can cut the flowering stems and more will follow until spring begins turning to summer.

Fertilize the plants when they get about six inches tall with a good flower food at the rate recommended for annuals.

Start an Asparagus Bed –It Lasts Years

For about the same effort that you invest in planting any other vegetable, you can start a bed of asparagus that produces for ten or twenty years.

The best place for this perennial is in a sunny corner of the garden that drains well and that won’t be in your way as you work the rest of the garden. If possible, raise the bed in clay soils to 12 to 18 inches high for drainage. The key to a long-lived productive plot is good drainage.

Plant crowns now; set them in trenches about 5 inches deep in sandy soil, or 3 to 4 inches deep in clay soil. (If you start with transplants, wait until after frost to plant because young plants are sensitive to cold.)

As the plants grow, fill in the trench. Mulch with pinestraw or compost to suppress weeds that would sap productivity.

Spear tenderness depends on fast growth and moisture. If spring is dry, be sure to water.

Don’t try to harvest new spears this year. Let the ferny tops grow tall and develop a strong root system. Next year begin harvesting by cutting for about six weeks in the spring and then leave the planting alone to rejuvenate.

Houseplants Need Help?

By now many houseplants are tired of the house! Give them a refreshing shower in the bathroom. This cleans the leaves of dust and possibly a few insects. If you have a removable showerhead, spray the underside of the leaves, too. Cut away dead foliage and trim brown tips from leaves. The exception to this bath is violets and other plants with fuzzy leaves. Instead, dust them with a soft brush.

To Beat Pests, Spray Oil Now

Beat garden pests that spend winter hiding in the crevices of tree bark or on the underside of leaves. They may be in the egg stage, which makes them nearly impossible to see. No matter what their stage of life cycle, your chance of killing them is rarely better than it is now.

Kill them where they hide with a spray of dormant oil, so named because it’s applied when plants are dormant in winter. The oils suffocate the pests by coating their skin. Spray the trunk, branches, stems, and both sides of the foliage thoroughly to kill mites, mealybugs, scale, aphids, psyllids, whiteflies, and other pests.

Follow label directions carefully because some plants, especially evergreens, can be sensitive. Spray when the weather is mild; the label gives temperature guidelines and may list sensitive plant species. If it gets too warm there is "summer oil," which is lighter.

Be careful to spray deciduous fruit such as apples, blueberries, pears, and peaches before the flower or leaf buds begin to open.

A careful spray this month will spare you lots of grief later.

Vegetable Garden

If you still have dead plants in the garden, pull them up and get them out of there now because they are providing shelter for insects that will pounce on your vegetables as soon as you plant. When the ground allows, till the soil to expose pupae of squash vine borers and other damaging pests to killing freezes.

In South Alabama, it is time to set out transplants of broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, collards, and other cool season vegetables.

Grow a Special Lemon

Now is when you are likely to find small citrus trees for sale in garden centers. They are either in bloom, fruiting or both. One of the most popular is the Meyer Lemon, a large, thin-skinned variety that you can’t find in the grocery store. It is a proven houseplant that you can leave outdoors during the warm months and bring inside for winter. Its giant, oversized lemons are tasty and yield a lot of juice.

To grow lemons or any citrus, start with a large pot, at least 18 inches in diameter. Use a top quality potting soil and a fertilizer that includes all the micronutrients. Keep the plants watered and protect from freezes and you’ll have a beautiful small tree that will last for years if you repot it every year or two. For best flavor, the plants need full sun when outside during the growing season. Indoors, find them the brightest spot possible.

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