November 2006
How's Your Garden?

Hungry for Spinach? Grow Your Own

Don’t get caught without spinach again—grow your own at home by sowing seeds of this hardy crop. Even in North Alabama, you can still sow seeds directly in the garden. Soak seeds overnight to speed germination.  In North Alabama you might want to cover plants with a row cover or cold frame to encourage plenty of growth as the weather cools. In Central and South Alabama, your spinach will grow well into winter. Once established, plants can withstand frosts down to about 20 degrees.

Control Pretty but Wayward Vines

This is a good time to cut out rambling or tangled growth and shoots of overgrown vines that have reached places where they are not welcome. After leaves drop, it is much easier to see the vine’s structure. It is okay to selectively prune overgrown wisteria, yellow jessamine, Lady Banks rose or other spring blooming vines but remember that you’ll also be cutting off their blooms. If you love wisteria but are frustrated by its python-like habit try Amethyst Falls (Wisteria frutescens ‘Amethyst Falls’). This American native wisteria blooms a little later and isn’t as aggressive as the common Chinese and Japanese species.

Rake Away Camellia and Azalea Troubles

Rake away old mulch from below camellias and azaleas and replace with fresh to help protect the blossoms from petal blight, a disease that turns the flowers brown. The fungus spores from last year are in the mulch and soil. By replacing the mulch, you will help prevent reinfection.

Fertilize Trees and Shrubs

You can fertilize trees and shrubs in the fall after the leaves drop. This is especially important to young landscapes. Use a winterizer formula that is high in potassium and low in nitrogen.

Fall Color Standouts

Let fall color inspire you to add just the right tree or shrub to the landscape. I’m partial to oakleaf hydrangea for its orange to red fall leaf color, its flaky winter bark and its summer flowers. This shrub,native to our state and first described by William Bartram, is considered a treat by gardeners “in the know” from other parts of the country. It enjoys recognition as an outstanding landscape plant by various horticultural groups as far away as Pennsylvania. Here it just grows wild on the riverbanks, mountainsides and rock outcroppings, showing just what a tough plant it is. Truly a shrub for all seasons, if you don’t have at least one, you’re missing a treat.

Another outstanding plant to be on the lookout for this fall is Japanese maple. Depending on the variety, you will enjoy red, golden yellow or orange fall foliage. Selections vary to give you a choice from ones big enough to cast shade on a patio to ones small enough to perfectly grace a container. The cutleaf types are beautifully delicate; their lacy leaves prefer shade and a water break during dry weather.

Select Bulbs Carefully

Perhaps you’ve already bought your daffodils, tulips and other spring bulbs. If you haven’t, hurry. Once they’re gone, you won’t have a chance to buy again until next year. Shop for bulbs as you would an onion at the grocery store. They should be firm and without mold or rot. Bulbs that feel soft or spongy may be diseased or old and dehydrated. Store your bulbs in a cool dry place until you are ready to plant. Thanksgiving is an ideal time because by then the ground will have cooled a bit. Work off the extra dressing by digging planting holes for bulbs.

Tuck Bulbs in Ground Covers

Add a seasonal spark to a ground cover bed by dotting it with perennial bulbs. Classics for this include daffodils, scillas, spider lilies and magic lilies. For a naturalized look, throw the bulbs out by the handful and plant where they land. Ground covers well suited to this include young liriope, mondo grass and Asian jasmine. When the ground cover gets so thick that it threatens to choke the bulbs, thin around the bulbs to keep the show.

Pansies Pair with Bulbs and Leafy Companions

Plant pansies between daffodils and tulips for a double show. The pansies bloom through winter and the bulbs provide another level of color in the spring. Plant the pansies first or at the same time as the bulbs to avoid injuring bulbs as you dig pansy holes. Pansies also make lovely companions for iris to fill out the bed in winter.  And if you like fragrance, sniff before you buy. Some cultivars have a delicate perfume.

Pansies, violas and Johnny Jump-ups are also easy to pair with many hardy leafy plants such as collards, kale, lamb’s ear, lettuce, dusty miller, rosemary and parsley. You may surprised at this list because it includes vegetables and herbs, but don’t overlook the ornamental value of edible greens. Their size makes them easy to tuck in a flowerbed or container and give it a fresh, spring-like green (or red) that may last all winter. You can also add the pansy blooms to your salad (provided they haven’t been sprayed). Traditionally, pansies work with almost any taller flower in border, too. Snapdragons and pinks are perfect companions. Mix flowers, herbs and leafy vegetables for a lively winter look.

Blueberries Overgrown? Old?

As soon as blueberries shed their pretty red leaves, it is a good time to transplant them. Blueberries, often purchased quite small, quickly grow into large shrubs. Some varieties easily get eight feet tall without pruning. The more branches, the more berries.  Dig and move crowded blueberries farther apart to maximize your harvest. Also consider blueberries as part of the landscaping of your house. They make nice looking plants that have bright fall color.

Old, overgrown plants may just be too entrenched to dig. If so, prune those that lost branches in the recent drought and have just generally lost vigor. Remove dead or broken branches first. Then cut two or three of the largest old canes at ground level and new ones will arise.  Water and fertilize in the spring. Cut old canes again next year, if needed.

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