Time to Plant Tomatoes
Enjoy big, sandwich tomatoes this year by planting an assortment of determinate and indeterminate types, and early and late types to stretch your harvest. Some good ones for Alabama include Atkinson, Cherokee Purple, Better Boy, Big Beef, Super Fantastic, Celebrity and Bonnie Original. Spray the plants with Neem this summer if mites or insects are a problem. Neem also helps keep some diseases at bay. Water with soaker hoses to keep the leaves dry, that helps prevent disease problems, too. These big tomatoes take a while to mature. I always add Early Girl to my lineup because it produces in less than two months from transplanting. It’s also a great late tomato to plant in mid-summer for a fall crop.
If you like azaleas, this is the month to shop for them. Today’s azaleas go way beyond the traditional. There are azaleas that bloom again like Encores. There are types that bloom later in spring. There are great fragrant natives growing wild in our woods and hillsides. And Alabama nurserymen have crossed our natives with big-flowered English Exbury’s to come up with big-flowered, deciduous hybrids that thrive in the South; where it’s not exactly England, you know. So take your pick from indicas as big as Greyhound buses to the delicate airy stems of Florida Flame, an unimproved native, to the Southern hybrids like Admiral Semmes. If you choose properly, you could have an azalea in bloom from March or April until summer. The native Azalea prunifolia, which is the symbol of Callaway Gardens, blooms there in August. Imagine that. It needs a woodland setting, like the area around Pine Mountain where it grows wild. If you’re captivated by the idea of a red, native azalea blooming in August, check with Callaway, where the plants are often sold.
Call Before You Dig
Are you installing a fence or digging where there could be an underground utility line? If in doubt, call 811, the national "Call Before You Dig" number. This service notifies local utilities to send a locator to the site to mark the position of underground lines. For more information, visit http://www.call811.com.
Rules for Containers
Make sure your container combination, or "garden in a pot," is successful by combining plants with similar needs. If you mix one that likes sun with one that likes shade, one of them will probably suffer. Make sure your selections have the right sun (or shade) and water. Also, combine shapes that work together. For example, pair upright rosemary, which doesn’t like too much water, with low-spreading creeping thyme, which grows in the same conditions. Add a short marigold for a touch of color. If the pot is large enough, you can add sage or chives, too. All these have similar needs. Put heavy pots on a base with casters to make it easier to move them around.
Some Recommended Roses
A friend who has been buying roses for a local nursery in North Florida gave me a list of his tried-and-true favorites for performance in the region, which is much like much of our state. It’s a good list to share with folks who are looking for dependable roses for their garden. The original Knockout. It’s the easiest of all roses and can bloom for months. Landscapers view this as a regular shrub, not a rose, which shows how tough it is. Mister Lincoln is a great red hybrid tea. It has good fragrance, fairly-easy care and classic red-rose look. Don Juan is an excellent red climber and is easy to grow. Midas Touch is a very good yellow hybrid tea that blooms well and isn’t too fussy. Belinda’s Dream, a floribunda, has very good black spot-resistant foliage and fragrant pink flowers. It’s a pretty little shrub rose. Julia Child, another disease-resistant floribunda, has butter-yellow flowers with a strong licorice fragrance. Queen Elizabeth, a classic pink grandiflora, is fairly disease resistant and has a nice, mild fragrance. Louis Philippe, an antique also called "Florida Monthly" because of its ability to have a bloom every month of the year in the panhandle. It has deep crimson flowers. Caldwell Pink is another antique with a long-bloom period. If you live in an area where root knot nematodes and other root diseases are a problem, you might try buying roses grafted on fortuniana rootstock. Florida gardeners have been doing this for years so they can enjoy roses in their garden indefinitely instead of watching them gradually decline over a few years. If you can’t find them locally, you might need to check with North Florida nurseries or find a mail order source online. However, mail order sources normally ship in winter, while the roses are dormant.
Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.