October 2009
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden

Love Your Pineapple Sage?

This plant can get killed in a severe winter, but thankfully it roots easily enough you can keep a few cuttings as insurance. Just cut stems with three to four nodes (the places where the leaves are attached). Carefully remove the leaves from the lower nodes, and place them in a glass of water. Change the water every few days to prevent bacteria and algae from growing. When roots have grown several inches long, plant the cuttings in potting soil. Keep your plant in a sunny window through the winter. Watch for mealybugs and treat with a diluted solution of dishwashing liquid if they appear. If you don’t want to go to this trouble just for "insurance," you can buy another next spring! One plant grows fast and will easily measure three feet by three feet in a season if it’s getting the right amount of water and nutrients.


This Chinese pistache blazes in the parking lot of the Birmingham Botanical Garden.

Chinese Pistache Has Great Fall Color

If you like the idea of a medium-sized tree with outstanding fall color, drought resistance and adaptability to different soil types, you might want to take a look at Chinese pistache. This tree is used as a rootstock in the commercial pistachio industry, but makes a nice ornamental for these parts. It’s been admired by landscape folks for years, but still isn’t as well-known as it deserves. Because it’s tough and not too big, it is prized for tough urban locations, but it is a fine yard and patio tree, too, but with a caveat—read on. The mature tree, which typically gets 30 to 45 feet tall, has a big, rounded crown that will light up orange to red in autumn. One great thing about this color is it is good even in our warmer regions. There is one important caveat to selecting this tree: the females bear fruit which reseeds. In California and Texas, it is on the noxious plant list. The last thing we need is another Chinese privet. However, the cultivar Keith Davey (or Davies, depending on the source) is male and it’s the one to look for. Don’t accept any old seedling. In its early years, the tree shape is a little awkward and irregular (same story as ginkgo), but, as it grows, it fills out and takes shape. Hopefully you will find a well-grown specimen with lot of branches, but if you buy a tree that is growing straight up with few side branches that is easily remedied by cutting the top back. You might have to do that several times every foot or two of growth to encourage more branching. Remember, insist on Keith Davey (or Davies), the non-fruiting cultivar.


A patch of bearded iris is a familiar and welcomed spring sight. Now is the time to dig and divide if needed.


Increasing Your Perennials

This is the month to begin cleaning up beds of daylilies, hostas, iris and most of those early perennials looking ratty and ready for a winter rest. Crowded daylilies don’t bloom well, so dig up old clumps, divide the plants to move elsewhere or share with friends. Crowded iris don’t bloom well either, although it may take three to five years for a healthy bed to get crowded enough for you to notice a difference, especially with the older types. Inspect the rhizomes when you dig them up and get rid of all but the younger, more vigorous looking pieces. Hostas don’t like being dug up too often. They’ll stay in the same place forever it seems, but if you want to start new plantings elsewhere, a big clump will yield several plants. Divide both hostas and daylilies as gently as possible, making sure each clump has good, healthy roots attached.

Myco What?

Over the last couple of years you may have seen labels of new organic garden fertilizers announcing "contains mycorrhizae." These are soil fungi living on plant roots and actually extend the roots’ ability to take up food and water from the soil. The spores are contained in the fertilizer and will grow in the soil if conditions are right. This technology comes from forestry and organic farming, where it has been used to help transplants get a hold in the ground and to thrive once established. Like many things that first have commercial application, it is now finding its way to retail. I don’t know a lot about this yet, although I’ve used this and similar biological starters in my vegetable garden for the last three years and I’ve noticed better tolerance to drought in my tomatoes and maybe some increased resistance to our typical tomato foliage diseases. My plants get them, but it seems later and more easily controlled. Last year, I sprayed copper only three times and had the same tomato plants in the ground from April until frost. We’re only beginning to unlock some of the secrets of what goes on underground. It’s going to be an exciting time for gardeners.

Make a Garden Mosaic

Colorful broken ceramics can be remade into pretty mosaics for your garden.

You can make colorful mosaics for your garden with concrete and broken tile. I took the picture of one on a garden tour of a lovely garden with many handmade touches. If you want a mosaic to serve as a stepping stone, be sure to use enough concrete between the pieces so it is not slippery. For stepping stones, it’s a good idea to also use heavy enough tiles they will hold up to foot traffic. The pretty colors and patterns in the piece made me think of broken china and this technique might be a nice way to preserve a piece of broken sentimental pottery or fine china. It could be placed away from foot traffic or even hung on a fence or wall. It might make a good Christmas present you can begin now.

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