September 2008
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

By Lois Trigg Chaplin

How Can It Already Be Time for Bulbs?

Bulb ordering time always catches many of us unprepared because we are in the throes of weeding, fighting tomato diseases and beating the heat. But now is the unlikely time to plan and order those spring bulbs to enjoy them next February and March. As bulb catalogs arrive, I promptly skip the pages of tempting tulips and things I know won’t be dependable and go straight to the tiger lilies, daffodils I know and sturdy bulbs like scilla, camassia and leucojum. The last three are especially nice for shade, a place often lacking in color.


Scilla (Scilla hyancinthoides hispanica), also called wood hyacinth, comes in pale blue, pale pink and white. It is a sweet cut flower for a small vase and is a great soft color along a shady wooded path or flowerbed.

Camassia (Camassia species), a little-known North American native with purplish-blue, star shaped flowers on stems about a foot-and-a-half tall, was first discovered by Lewis and Clark. Although its natural habitat is the Western states, it grows well in Central and North Alabama in moist, but not soggy soil. Give it a spot near the edge of a bed or walk so the color doesn’t disappear into the background. Blue doesn’t pop like some other colors.

Also consider the gentle, white beauty of snowdrops, or Galanthus, which pop up in the winter and early spring depending on which species you order. The earliest to bloom is Garden Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, but in South Alabama stick to Giant Snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii, which is better suited to the warmer climate.

Enjoy browsing your catalog and make a habit of ordering one or two good items each year. Before you know it you’ll have a garden full of spring bulbs. When the bulbs arrive, keep them in a cool, dark place until around Thanksgiving, when the soil is cool enough for planting.

New Spray Increases Cold Hardiness

David Francko

Researchers at the University of Alabama and Miami University in Ohio recently announced a spray that can help plants be more cold hardy. For those who enjoy testing the uppermost limits of palms and other sub-tropical plants, you may soon have another toy. It is Freeze-Pruf, a spray that can improve plants’ cold tolerance between 2.2°F and 9.4°F, depending on the plant species. The water-based formula consists of five ingredients and works to below 0°F, depending on the plant. It’s been studied on tropical foliage, palms, citrus and bananas. It protects both foliage and flowers.

"It moves your temperature zone about 200 miles, so it’s highly significant," said co-developer David Francko, botany professor at University of Alabama.

Dates for commercially availability have not been announced, but keep your eye out. You can read more about how it works at spray070808.htm.

Mulch Grows on Trees

Free mulch is everywhere in Alabama. If your pine trees are dropping needles, gather the straw before other trees drop their leaves. It will make good, clean mulch for your shrubs, flowers and vegetables later when you need it.

Collect brown materials for your compost pile.

Collect Browns for Your Compost

By this time of year your compost pile may be getting goopy from so much kitchen and garden waste and not enough "browns." As leaves and pine straw drop, add them to your compost and set some aside in a collection bin or in lawn bags for use throughout the next year. Brown materials, which are high carbon, help balance the "greens" which are higher in nitrogen. The ideal compost pile is a ratio of three parts "browns" to one part "greens." Typical browns are leaves, pine needles, hay, straw, newspaper, sawdust and wood chips. Typical greens are kitchen waste, grass clippings, fresh green garden waste, coffee grounds and manures. If you want a good source on many aspects of composting materials, techniques and uses for home gardens, check out a new book by Mobile native, Barbara Pleasant, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Storey Publishing.

Broccoli is one of the cool-season favorites that is good to start from transplants.

Start Fall Vegetables

Bonnie transplants began shipping recently, so look for your cool-season favorites. Broccoli, cabbage, collards, onions, kohlrabi and lettuce are a few good items to start from transplants. Sow seeds of Swiss chard, beets, carrots and turnips; cover them with a board if needed to help cool the soil until they germinate. Gardeners who live near the coast can clip palmetto leaves to make little umbrellas for transplants to get them through the heat; one frond on the southwest side of a transplant should be enough.

Pet Owners Shell Out the Green

A raised planter can provide a place for your pet to  stay cool on hot days.

A recent headline from the LA Times caught my attention: “Landscape Architect Cashes in on Green Roof Doghouses.” The stylish, colorful houses (patent pending) with planted roofs, which sell for $1,000 to $5,000, “smell good, grow plants, attract butterflies, filter water, insulate and repel fleas naturally.” And here my cats have been sleeping under the air conditioning of a lowly, old, gray rectangular planter on our deck that also yields peppers and sprigs of basil and rosemary. Maybe it will bring a few dollars on eBay: “For Sale: Cat House with Herbal Roof.”

All joking aside, if you have a dog or cat who suffers through summer, a big, 24 x 48-inch planter elevated on a base just high enough to let your pet lie underneath will keep him cool for a lot less than $1,000. If you are curious about the California pet houses see the website at to form your own opinion.

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