Cherry tomatoes don’t mind the heat that begins building this month and intensifies through summer. If you want an easy, dependable tomato crop, there is still time to plant, but hurry because supplies of plants normally dwindle down in early summer. AFC subsidiary, Bonnie Plants, carries a number of excellent cherry tomatoes, both delicious in flavor and extremely productive. Look for Super Sweet 100, an improved hybrid of the original, popular Sweet 100; Sun Sugar, one of the sweetest, golden bite-sized available; or Grape, an oblong one you’ve probably bought at the grocery store which is touted for its sweetness. There is also a funky heirloom, Yellow Pear, whose tiny pear-shaped fruits are a novelty in salads. For containers, try Husky Cherry Red, a compact plant that produces all summer. Except for Husky Cherry Red, all of these tomatoes grow into very long, wild vines, so give them a tall cage or several stakes for support. The good thing is all that new growth keeps producing flowers and fruit all summer in spite of the heat and continues through fall until the first frost. Most cherry tomatoes are somewhat disease-resistant or tolerant, too. Because they grow so fast, sometimes they just simply outgrow problems, but to keep your plants in tip-top shape, be prepared to spray with a fungicide like Daconil or copper to prevent diseases and Neem, a three-in-one product that kills insects and mites, and helps protect against some diseases. Remember, plant your tomato plants deeply, burying two-thirds of the plant so it grows a large root system from the buried stem.
It’s Time for Tropicals in Containers
Check out your favorite garden center for a selection of colorful tropicals available this time of year. Sometimes you will even find these as special purchases at the entrance to unlikely places like grocery stores. Some of the more popular ones include jasmines, yellow mandevilla, pink allamanda, blue plumbago, many colors of hibiscus and red-orange Ixora. All of these are great in containers, but may also be planted in the ground for the summer; they need sun. All but the plumbago also appreciate a little fertilizer through the season; plumbago does better when it is a little hungry. In Florida, where it is used as a landscape plant, it thrives in hot, sandy soil.
Another way to find pretty tropicals for the summer is to check out the houseplant section of your favorite garden center. Many indoor palms and big plants like philodendron and dracaena are excellent plants for shade in containers. Others, like rubber tree, are striking plants for pots in the sun. You can also combine foliage plants with pretty annuals like Angel Wing begonia that adapts so well to either sun or shade. Have fun combining different textures like the fine plumes of asparagus fern with the bold leaves of Angel Wing begonia. Make sure you use a premium-quality potting mix to provide a good root environment for these plants to thrive in a pot.
For Shade, Try a Begonia
Begonias are all the rage right now because of so many new varieties with large, textured or patterned leaves and delicate flowers. Some angel wing types grow three to four feet tall with beautiful upright canes and leaves with patterns. Also check stores for smaller begonias in hanging baskets. These may be left in the baskets or taken out by slipping the basket off and planting the whole thing in a larger container for an instant effect. You can’t beat begonias for summer in the shade. At the end of the season, try bringing them indoors or into a garage or basement for protection from freezing weather. In spring, cut back the lanky stems, water, fertilize and presto! You’ll have a new begonia again.
Take in a Hydrangea Garden
Aldridge Botanical Garden in Hoover is Alabama’s premier spot to see hydrangeas in bloom. Founded by Eddie Aldridge, who popularized the Snowflake oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia Snowflake), the 30-acre woodland garden showcases an ever-growing collection of many types of hydrangeas. June is the month when most of them are in bloom. Visit to just stroll around the gardens or come for a special event. Check out the garden’s calendar for June, which includes an outdoor concert, a gala, an art show and two workshops. On June 22, Mr. Aldridge himself will hold a hydrangea propagation workshop where you can learn to multiply your favorites. Class size is limited and pre-registration is suggested. Find out more at www.aldridgegardens.com or call (205) 682-8019.
My Favorite Fertilizers
Friends often ask how I feed my plants. Years ago I would have said, "With a coated, slow-release fertilizer." Osmocote is a well-known example. In recent years much has been learned about the soil flora and my answer has changed. Instead, I use organics and organically-based products that don’t add salts to the soil and also encourage fungi and other soil inhabitants forming the soil food web. I order kelp online from California and put a handful into each planting hole for my veggies. I add composted manure and have learned to buy organic lawn fertilizer to use on everything, not just the lawn. By the pound, it’s a whole lot more economical than the organics in smaller bags. If you read the fine print, the ingredients are essentially the same (crab meal, feather meal, etc.). Just make sure you don’t accidentally choose an organic herbicide or insecticide. For liquid feeding, I’ve replaced soluble-powdered fertilizer and smelly fish emulsion with a soy-based fertilizer (Bonnie Vegetable and Herb Food). I work for Bonnie, but I would recommend it with full confidence based on my experience. Soil scientists are learning more about the underground world of fungi, insects and other flora working to help plants absorb nutrients from the soil and even increase disease resistance. How you treat the ground can encourage or discourage this web. Learn more about the soil food web at http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/concepts/soil_biology/soil_food_web.html.
Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner's Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.