September 2013
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

  Oxalis, a perennial in Alabama, is tolerant of neglect and abuse so it makes a good addition to any garden. In addition, it does well in shade.

This Calculator Measures Sun’s Rays

Our backyard is shaded by neighbors’ trees part of the day, so I’ve often wondered if we get enough sun to bring out the potential of our vegetables. To help us rely less than on a guess, my husband ordered a clever little tool called a Suncalc (made by Luster Leaf) that measures the amount of accumulated solar energy in a spot. Easy to use, you just put it in place very early one morning and remove it after dark. At $25 or less, this is a great little tool that has helped us identify the sunniest areas of our garden and we recommend it to anyone who would like to do the same.

Oxalis is Tough

One of the most impressive little plants in our garden is a beautiful little oxalis. There are several on the market you can find by shopping the bulbs section of your favorite garden center or from bulb specialists online. What I have found most impressive about this plant, beyond its beauty, is tolerance to neglect and abuse. I unknowingly moved a piece of it to another part of the garden, where it came up anyway - no matter how I might have chopped the roots getting it there. Oxalis is a perennial in Alabama and the foliage is semi-evergreen in the mildest parts of the state. You can buy plants in pots or you can start oxalis from shriveled tubers in the fall. There are several species and colors including very striking purple-leafed types. These are easy to plant and ignore. They like shade, which is good news for adding flowers to a wooded garden.

A grouping of peppers can make a simple, yet beautiful centerpiece.  

Onion Sets for Scallions

Fall is the time to set out onion sets for a crop of scallions. Because most sets are long-day storage varieties, don’t expect a big crop of bulbs from them, but they are a good way to grow lots of scallions for winter and spring. For bulbing onions, either start from seeds or transplants.

Peppers as a Centerpiece

Now is the time when pepper plants start loading up with fruit, especially the hot peppers. With hot peppers, the abundance of peppers is a beautiful sight you can also use to make a simple beautiful centerpiece such as this simple grouping on a platter for a few days before cooking.

Mint Plants Need Their Own Refreshing

Give mint a trim and a shot of liquid plant food to watch it recover from the summer doldrums. The tender new stems in fall add great flavor to lemonade, tea or atop fresh fruit. Simply trim back about a third of the plant to encourage new growth as the nights cool.

Tame Sweet Autumn Clematis

Our native clematis has always tempted me with its great fragrance, but it can be such a runaway nuisance. One gardener I visited in Norman, Okla., solved this problem by giving it a tall trellis on which to run. The trellis created a wall of green that was also a great backdrop for grasses and flowers.


Clockwise from left, Trim mint as nights begin to cool. The tender new stems add great flavor to drinks or fruit in the fall. Use a tall trellis to train clematis so it doesn’t become a runaway nusiance. Gaillardia, as well as zinnia, marigolds, morning glory and more, will restart each year if seed heads are clipped and stored in a sealed plastic bag to store over winter.  

Collecting Seeds

Some annual garden flowers restart themselves from seed from year to year if you encourage them. Easy ones such as zinnia, cosmos, marigolds, morning glory, gaillardia and sunflowers should have seed heads on them now that you can clip and store in a sealed plastic bag to scatter on the ground in very early spring. Many of these will reseed on their own if you leave the seeds to fall on the ground, too.

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