January 2014
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

  The lovely Bradford pear is only one example of invasive plants and diseases that have become problematic in our landscapes.

Nice Plants with a Dark Side

Kudzu may the best-known example of what can happen when an introduced plant becomes invasive. The Japanese beetle is an example of an invasive insect that came in from another country. Neither has a natural check in our local natural system of checks and balances because the co-factors that would ordinarily keep them from over-running their environment aren’t likely present.

Most invasive insects and plant diseases come in unnoticed on produce or plants - in spite of agricultural inspections and restrictions. However, many problematic landscape plants are already in our yards. Some are still being sold, others maybe not, but there aren’t as many restrictions on ornamentals as there are on insects and diseases that can wipe out agricultural crops. However, if you spend much time in the countryside and see how runaway plants can choke out native growth, it might inspire you to carry a machete and self-impose restrictions on what you grow.

So what is in your garden that is invasive? A hedge of Chinese privet? A pretty Bradford pear? A fragrant mimosa? Chinese tallow tree (popcorn tree) with beautiful fall color? Chinese wisteria with fragrant late winter blooms? These are plants we’ve come to know and love, but they also have a dark side. They’ve broken out of our landscape and are going wild, growing fast and furiously especially in any area disturbed by construction, road building, forestry practices, etc.

So, to learn more about what is high on the list of things to watch for take a look at the website of the Alabama Invasive Plant Council. They feature an easy to use list of plants ranked according to level of concern. Visit the website of the Alabama Invasive Plant Council at http://www.se-e ppc.org/alabama.

Check out the North American Bluebird Society website to learn more about the beautiful bluebird.  

Ground Cover Clean Up

Now is a good time to trim ground covers such as mondo and liriope to get rid of old, tattered foliage. This month, in warmer parts of the state, the new leaves begin sprouting from down in the crown of the plant; so don’t wait until spring. By waiting, you risk clipping the new foliage and the ends will be tattered all year. If you want an even, smooth ground cover from a planting still in clumps, dig each one up, pull apart the clumps and set the plantlets about six inches apart over the area you want to cover. If the ground cover is not on a slope, mulch with fine pine bark between the clumps to help keep weeds from sprouting in the disturbed soil.

Easy Resource for More About Bluebirds

Bluebirds are birds we all hope to spot. Like purple martins, there is a subset of bird lovers who focus just on this group of birds. You can learn more about bluebirds and even download some factsheets on things like "getting started with bluebirds" and "how to build a nestbox" at the North American Bluebird Society website at http://nabluebirdsociety.org/index.htm.

Take a Hard Look at the Lawn

  The bird’s nest fern is a better choice for the house than Boston fern. The thick, leathery leaves are not as sensitive to indoor environments.

Look at your lawn. Do any winter weeds bother you? If so, consider spot treating henbit and other broadleaf winter weeds with a liquid herbicide in a stretch of time where the weather is predicted to be mild. Spot spraying minimizes overall use of the herbicide. Sometimes a heavy presence of weeds indicates the grass is not thriving because it’s just not suited for that spot. Is the lawn thin because of shade, soggy soil, tree roots or other conditions unfavorable to grass? If so, it may be worth considering alternatives such as ground cover, mulch or a mass planting of low-growing shrubs.

Bird’s Nest Fern Won’t Shed

Are you always picking up fern fronds from the floor underneath your ferns? Boston-type ferns we move indoors for winter are notorious for this as they try to get used to the lower light and drier air inside. There is a better fern for the house. The thick, leathery leaves of bird’s nest fern aren’t as sensitive to the indoor environment. There are several forms of bird’s nest ferns varying in the width of the leaves, but all form a rosette of leathery, easy leaves perfect for a fern stand or table top. Keep them in bright, but not direct, sunlight and keep the soil moist. Feed every couple of months with houseplant fertilizer diluted to half the normal rate to keep the tips of the leaves from turning brown. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, with regular watering between feedings.

This pencil fence, spotted at a San Diego school, is a perfect design for anywhere learning takes place. The boards have been cut and painted to look like pencils.  

Pencil Fence

One of the great things about travelling is seeing things that are new and different. While in San Diego this year, I spotted a schoolyard fence made from boards that had been cut and painted so each looked like a pencil. What a perfect design for a school or any place where learning takes place.

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