October 2006
How's Your Garden?

Certified Mulch and Soils

Did you know that in 2004 the Mulch and Soil Council (MSC) adopted standards prohibiting the use of wood treated with the preservative chromated copper arsenate (CCA) in all consumer mulch and soil products? This is because of concern over recycled decks, posts, and other CCA treated products (which contain arsenic) ending up in mulch and soil. The MSC also developed a product certification program to help identify mulches and soils that comply with industry standards and contain no CCA-treated wood. Certified products must conform to the council’s “truth-in-labeling” requirements, pass laboratory testing including weights and measures, pass greenhouse growth testing (soils) and chemical testing for CCA-treated wood contaminants (mulches), and pass random audit testing in retail markets. Certified mulches and soils are identified by the MSC certification logo on the package and are listed on the MSC web site, mulchandsoilcouncil.org.

Trees and Shrubs Almost Like Plastic

Now is an ideal time to plant trees and shrubs. Many put on their greatest root growth in the fall when the ground is warm and there is no stress on the tops of the plants.

This summer was a great test of what is really tough. In spite of drought, some plants just keep on keeping on. Although the following aren’t plastic, they are about as close as you can get. Consider althea (‘Diana’ is a pretty white one), all crape myrtles, yaupon holly (both the low forms and the tree-form ones), Burford holly (great berries for decorating), bald cypress (takes soggy or dry soil), and Southern magnolia (try new, smaller varieties for around the house). These plants need regular, deep watering their first and second years, but once well established they’ll be great contributors to your landscape and ask little in return.

Try Sasanquas this Fall

Every year I marvel at the many beautiful camellias that are available, especially because they bloom in fall and winter. Alabama Beauty is a deep pink, double sasanqua that gets big —about fifteen feet tall and half as wide. It was developed by Tom Dodd Nurseries in Semmes, who has several other nice introductions to add to classic favorites such as Sparkling Burgundy.

Sasanquas, which bloom in fall, have many attributes, yet are probably are not used quite as much as the japonicas that have larger flowers. However, sasanquas are likely to bloom before a freeze, so you have a better chance at enjoying their flowers. Their smaller leaves and branching structure lends itself nicely for espalier against a wall, which is a good technique for extending their range in the colder parts of the state. Usually a northern or western wall is best to guard from early morning sun in freezing weather, but they don’t like being open to the wind. In general, sasanquas are also a little more tolerant of sun than Japonicas, but they will need water.

Parsley is a Pretty Winter Bedding Plant

Parsley transplants are sold in many garden centers this month; use them to add rich green foliage to your flowerbeds and outdoor containers. You can choose from flat leaved Italian types and selections with curly and extra curled leaves. Mix them with pansies for a nice touch of color through fall and into spring.

Are Your Favorite Houseplants Outside?

Most houseplants don’t like temperatures below 50 degrees, so prepare to move them in. Check the plants carefully for insects. Just one branch infested with mites, aphids, or scale can cause trouble for all your houseplants as the pests spread inside. If possible, wash the plants with a strong stream from your hose or put them in the shower to help knock off dust and insects. Exceptions to this are cactus, which like cooler nights. Christmas cactus actually needs temperatures in the 50’s to bloom well. Of course, when frost is predicted, bring cactus indoors, too.

Daffodils to Count on

Looking for some good daffodil varieties you can count on year after year? Try the delicate and fragrant Thalia, the old faithful February Gold, the rugged, weather-tolerant Ice Follies, the big, showy Carleton, and other classics such as such as King Alfred, Fortune, Cheerfulness, and Quail. Plant large, healthy, firm top-grade bulbs for the biggest possible flowers of their type. Fertilize bulbs at planting with a timed-release bulb food. For a natural look under trees, toss bulbs on the ground by the handfuls and plant them where they land.

Pansies Welcome Winter

Choose from a wide variety of pansies and their slightly smaller cousins, violas. Violas are perfectly sized for window boxes and containers and to mix with rosemary, boxwoods, ivy, and other evergreens in containers. When replanting pots, replace soil that has been in the pot more than a year because texture of potting soil breaks down over time. At planting, fertilize with a timed-release product that contains a nitrate source of nitrogen for good feeding in cool soil.

It’s Not Too Late for Salad Greens

Bibb lettuce. Red lettuce. Arugula. Endive. Corn salad (mache, nussalat). Mizuna. Kale. All of these are easy greens to grow now for harvests through fall. Most kale tolerates hard freezes without protection. Transplants of lettuce are still available in garden centers, but to grow some of the more exotic such as Mizuna, or old fashioned greens such as corn salad, you may need to start from seed. Continue growing a fresh crop of salad greens all winter in North Alabama in a cold frame or under a row cover where they’re protected from hard freezes.

Herbs for Winter

Hardy perennial herbs include rosemary, chives, parsley, thyme, oregano, and sage. You can plant these outdoors and try a few in a bright, sunny windowsill to have handy for your Thanksgiving cooking.

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