March 2011
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Look for Spring-Flowering Vines


Many bright and fragrant vines bloom between now and May. This is a good time to start looking for favorites and how they might help your landscape. Vines are finery in the garden, gracefully climbing and arching to bring color to a deck, porch rail, over the door, on a fence, on a handrail, on a post or on an arch. Because they grow and climb up and not out, you can train vines to hide gutter downspouts, bad walls and other items needing cover. Vines can add color anywhere, but they are especially useful for tight spaces. Some great early vines are yellow jessamine, Armand clematis, hybrid clematis, trumpet vine and crossvine. Pay special attention to how they climb because that will determine how you support them. For example, crossvine and trumpet vine grab surfaces with adhesive disks (although not quite as tightly as ivy), while the others simply twist their way up if they have something like wire to wrap around. All will need your help getting pointed in the right direction.


Have you met the "Stepables®"? This is a line of plants marketed under the Stepables® name are low-growing little plants, many of them drought-tolerant succulents. They are well-suited to the tight spaces between stepping stones or rocks in walls, or almost any nook and cranny of the garden where it is hard to grow most ground covers. Stepables® are also a great choice for pots and strawberry jars, especially small containers that dry out quickly.


Protection from Wind

Bug-free weather is one of the best times to be outdoors, so why let the March chilly wind drive you inside? Sometimes March days are plenty warm in the sunshine if you can stay out of the wind. A planting of dense evergreens branching to the ground acts as a windbreak to reduce the chill factor so you can enjoy a patio or deck. Add a chimenea or outdoor fireplace to make it even nicer. Windbreaks work best when planted perpendicular to the prevailing winter winds, the chilliest which blow in from the west or north. The height and density of the planting are very important. Of course, the denser, the less likely wind will blow through so choose your plants with that in mind. As a rule of thumb, you can count on excellent shielding from the wind as far as about 10 times the height of the screen. Some great tall evergreens for screening are American holly, Eastern red cedar, Japanese black pine, magnolia, loquat, white cedar and many types of tree arborvitae.


If you covered your roses this winter, it’s about time to remove the mound of straw or mulch you piled around the base. As soon as you see the buds swelling, remove them. That is also the last chance to prune before spring. Of course, don’t prune once-blooming roses until right after they bloom in spring or you’ll be removing their flower buds. If a late hard freeze is predicted as the leaf buds start to open, be sure to cover the plants with blankets or boxes to protect them.


Make Your Own Pot Luck

When repotting baskets or planting window boxes and containers, good potting soil is the key to your success. A premium-quality soil holds water, nutrients and air in balanced quantities to encourage healthy roots and tops. If you’ve ever used a poor soil packed down into a hard brick, you’ll know the difference. Don’t skimp on potting soil. Buy the best. It pays off in good growth for your plants.

It’s Strawberry Time


I once interviewed a number of U-pick strawberry growers who shared a lot of insight on the best way to grow a bunch of strawberries. One grower from Missouri got five times the yield from strawberries planted in black plastic mulch instead of letting them grow in matted rows. It’s more trouble because you have to replant each year, but definitely rewarding. A Florida grower found that by fertilizing and watering well enough to grow big, healthy plants, the birds were not a problem because the berries were hidden under the foliage. Another in the Seattle area found planting corn in the field next to his strawberries attracted aphids to the corn instead of the strawberries. If you’re planting strawberries on a big scale this spring, these grower’s tips might help you fill the freezer.

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