November 2009
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden

Fancy Compost Tumblers


Compost tumblers make composting kitchen waste easy in a handy spot just a few steps from the back door.

Make quick and easy compost at a price. There are lots of new compost tumblers on the market that keep the critters out and allow you to turn the pile with a hand crank. They make it especially easy to compost kitchen scraps in a handy spot just out the back door and the frequent turning allows you to make finished compost much more quickly than a simple pile. Depending on which model you choose, these composters range from a $100 to about $500 and make from 30 to 180 gallons of finished compost. Just in case there is a gardener in your life who "has everything," maybe this is one thing that would make a nice gift.

Dunce caps (Orostachys warenge) are one of several hardy, semi-evergreen perennial succulents that thrive on neglect.


Persimmons Are Popular Again

My father had a big Japanese persimmon tree and I looked forward to the soft, pudding-like sweet fruit. If you ate it before it softened, your mouth would pucker. It was awful. But today, there are "non-astringent" seedless varieties that are sliced and eaten crunchy. They are all the rage among gourmets. If you have room in your garden, try one. The trees will need about a 20-foot circle. Recently I bought a bunch of fruit from Petals from the Past in Jemison, but only one persimmon tree because a single tree will yield 150 pounds of fruit or more. This is too much to eat at one time, but it makes great bread! The fruit keep for a couple of weeks, too.

Sculptural Succulents

A recent trip to the desert landscape of Phoenix highlighted the beauty of the drought-tolerant, sculptural plants. There are lots of semi-evergreen perennial succulent plants that do well here in containers, on rock walls and other places where it gets hot and dry in the summer. In our climate, the thing threatening these plants is too much moisture. Plant them in containers with a little sand mixed into the potting soil. If they are in the ground, make sure the spot drains quickly after a rain. Some of the more popular types are dunce caps, sedums, and hen and chicks.

Variegated Flax Lily


The light-colored foliage of Flax Lily ‘Variegata’ is light and bright for the shade.

Although it looks like a big liriope, this grass-like plant is not. It’s called Flax Lily, Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata,’ and it’s a great way to brighten up a shady spot in a bed and in pots. Hardy through zone 8, this is a plant needing protection in all but South Alabama. The upright, strappy leaves grow about three feet high and form a clump spreading by rhizomes. You see this plant a lot in California, where they like it for its tolerance to dry conditions once established.

Freeze Dried Geraniums? Almost!

Try holding on to your favorite geraniums through winter by lifting them out of their pots, knocking the soil from their roots and storing the bare plant in a cool, dry basement through winter. Put the plant in a mesh citrus bag and hang it so it gets air circulation. In spring, cut the stems back to four to six inches tall and plant again. Begin watering and fertilizing. If the plants were healthy, new shoots should appear from the old stems in two or three weeks.

A good crop of blackberries next summer starts with a good pruning in the winter.


Working With Landscape Fabric

Landscape fabric makes it easy to keep weeds down in large beds and between newly-planted shrubs and winter is a good time to lay it down. To lay it down right, kill all grass or weeds in the area first. You can lay the fabric overlapping the seams so there aren’t any openings for weeds to poke through. If you plant on a slope, use ‘pins’ or ‘fabric staples’ every three or four feet to help keep it in place. On level ground, it’s not necessary. Be sure to clean a bed completely before covering with fabric. Otherwise, many weeds will find a way to come through. Cover with two or three inches of bark or pine straw mulch. Don’t use compost as mulch because the weeds can sprout on top and send their roots down through the material.

Berry Good Clean Up

Remove dead stems from blackberries and raspberries if you haven’t already done so. They provide a place for diseases to overwinter attacking healthy, new growth in the spring. Plus, leaving the dead, thorny plants makes the berries harder to pick next year.

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