February 2010
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Garden Catalogs are Educational

All the garden catalogs in my mailbox since December have made great bedside reading to get a peek at the many tools, garden supplies, seeds and plants available this year. Vegetable gardening aids like row covers and composters are fancier than ever. One catalog even offers Mason bees, tiny native bees that appear in the spring. Heirloom vegetables, particularly tomatoes, get top billing in many catalogs; even though I love Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato, I’m not about to give up on my highly productive and disease-resistant modern tomatoes. Between Early Girl, Better Boy, Goliath and Juliet hybrids, I have a great variety of delicious tomatoes with little fuss.

Climbing roses bloom early, so wait until after they bloom to prune them. This one is Buff Beauty.

 
   

Climbing Roses

Winter is a good time to train your climbing roses, but don’t prune them. Most climbers have already set their flower buds even though you can’t see them. If you cut them back, the new growth appearing in spring will be flowerless. Only remove dead wood and any canes you can afford to lose. The time to prune them back more severely is in the spring, after they bloom.

Making More Azaleas

Azaleas will layer easily, so you can start your own new plants by taking an existing branch and bending it to the ground where it can grow new roots. Later in spring, after the branch roots, you can cut the newly rooted piece away from the mother plant. If you gently scrape just the outer bark from the stem where it touches the ground and weigh it down with a block or brick, you’ll increase the chances of it rooting. My George Taber Azalea is doing this on its own and keeps creeping beyond where I want it to be. If you wonder why some of your original plants are now as big as Greyhound buses, this natural ability to layer is why.

 

Ivy in Trees?

Don’t let ivy climb up your trees because sooner or later it will choke out the new growth. Pull it off as it starts to creep up the trunk. For trees where ivy is already creeping up into the top, pull the stems away from the trunk enough so that you can cut each with a pruner so it is severed from the roots. In some cases you might need a crowbar and a saw, but be careful to protect the tree’s bark as much as possible and avoid harming the tree itself.

Boxwoods

Remember to keep boxwoods watered during really cold, dry weather to avoid winter burn. Also, if leaf miners have been a problem in the past, they are sure to be back and will disfigure this year’s new leaves, too. Pick up an insect killer containing imidacloprid (Merit), one of the most effective products against the miners. Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub Care is one such product. It is important to treat the plant early before the miners make the leaves look bad for the year. Apply at the very first sign of new leaf growth. One application of Bayer Tree and Shrub Care lasts the entire growing season.

Wildflower Seeds

 

Purple coneflower is an easy wildflower to grow and will endure lots of stress. This “meadow” is in downtown Chicago. How about that?

If wildflower seeds you have sown in the past never grew into their promise, try planting them in wads of soil. Make mudballs containing a large pinch of seeds and lay them in place. The seeds release gradually as the mudball breaks down and hopefully more of them will stay in place long enough to sprout and root before they can be washed away by a rain. In other years, this can be done ahead of time in the fall, too, by freezing the mudballs. Then they’re ready when you are and seeds will have the chilling some require, too.

Planting Time

Now is a good time to think about making changes to flower beds, especially those with perennials. New shoots may already be poking through the ground in parts of the state. Transplant these now before they get big and give them a chance to grow a few roots in their new location before hot weather arrives. Some of the items typically transplanted now are aster, candytuft, coneflowers, daisies, daylilies, iris, mums, salvia, sedum and other hardy perennials.

Keiffer lime has unique double-lobed leaves prized as an ingredient in Asian cooking, much like we use bay leaves. (Credit: istock)

 
   

A Special Lime

If you enjoy cooking Thai food and other Southeast Asian dishes, consider growing Keiffer limes to keep this ingredient handy. Citrus trees often begin appearing in nurseries and mail order catalogs for sale early this spring. The tree is also known as Kaffir, Thai and Asian lime. Although not yet common, this plant is becoming more popular as our appetite for Asian food grows. The leaves are used fresh or dried and can even be stored in the freezer. The juice of the fruit is too strong and acidic for cooking, but has application as a cleaner if you like to clean with lemon juice. The tree is cold tender so you must keep it indoors or in a greenhouse during winter. Plant the thorny tree in a large pot, but not so big it is awkward to move about. Remember, you’ll be growing it only for the leaves, so it won’t require a big tree to provide what you need.

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