October 2011
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


Use extra clay pots and saucers to create a one-of-a-kind birdbath, like this one in seen in Portland, OR. Leftover house paint is ideal for decoration.

Make a Birdbath from Clay Pots

I saw this birdbath during a garden tour in Portland, OR. Fashioned from clay pots and a saucer it’s a great way to use extras, which gardeners always seem to have on hand. The base is made from upside-down pots, stacked largest to smallest. The basin is made from a large saucer glued to the top pot. Make sure the pots are clean before painting for decoration. Use exterior latex paint, which will last a long time, especially if you have leftover house paint sitting around the garage.

Sasanquas Are a Fall Treat

Sasanqua camellias, which bloom in the fall, aren’t as widely planted as the japonicas with larger flowers, but perhaps they should be. Sasanquas are likely to bloom before a freeze, so you have a better chance at enjoying their flowers. Their smaller leaves and branching structure make a nice espalier against a wall, which also gives them some winter protection in colder parts of the state. In general, sasanquas are also a little more tolerant of sun than japonicas, but they will need water. Fall is a good time to shop for sasanquas as they begin blooming so you can choose the flower you like best. Keep the foliage of all camellias dark green and healthy by fertilizing with an azalea-camellia fertilizer to provide the extra iron and other micronutrients they need.

Outdoor Houseplants Need TLC Now

When nighttime temperatures start dropping into the 50s, most houseplants moved outdoors for summer will probably want to come back inside. Cool weather will cause many tropical houseplants to turn yellow under the stress. Tropicals like it warm and humid. Repot plants that have outgrown their container; if they’ve been hard to keep watered, that is a sure sign the plants are rootbound and need repotting. Also check the stems and the underside of the leaves for insects before moving them indoors; spray with insecticidal soap if pests are present. If you don’t get rid of the pest now, they will be a constant problem inside through the winter. Mites are especially hard to fight. Unlike tropicals, cacti and many succulents like cooler temperatures. Keep Christmas cactus outdoors while the temperatures are still in the 40s to help them set more blooms.

Herbs for Winter

Cold-hardy herbs include rosemary, chives, parsley, thyme, oregano and sage. You can plant these outdoors in the garden or in containers and try a few in a bright, sunny windowsill to have handy for your Thanksgiving cooking. Basil and other tender herbs will need to be kept indoors as best you can. They don’t grow as well indoors as a houseplant, but hold their own for a few weeks in a bright window. In any case, they are better and more economical than packaged, cut herbs from the produce case.

Dutch iris have delicate blooms. Plant the bulbs in fall.


Plant Spring Flowers

Although it doesn’t seem like it, fall is actually the best time to plant many popular spring-flowering annuals, bulbs and perennials. Cold-hardy plants set out now will root through fall and early winter, while the ground is still warm. This makes them come out bigger and stronger in spring. Plants appreciating fall planting include foxglove, poppy, snapdragon, pansies, Shasta daisy, Lenten rose, dianthus, aster, astilbe, candytuft, coreopsis and many others. Most nurseries will have made these choices for you, offering the best options for fall planting now. Bulbs like Dutch iris, hyacinths, tulips and daffodils are also for sale now, but unlike perennials and cool-weather annuals benefiting from warm soil, bulbs need cool soil. Go ahead and buy your bulbs now to get the best selection, but wait until Thanksgiving to plant. Keep the bulbs in a cool, dark and dry place until it’s time to plant.


Beautyberry is a native shrub with beautiful purple berries prized for arrangements.

Fall Shrubs

Look around for shrubs with showy berries and add some to your garden for something interesting in addition to pretty fall leaves. Viburnums and pyracantha are two well-known plants that include a number of varieties varying in size. Our native beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) and Purple Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) have purple berries, but there is also a white variety.

Take Care of the Veggie Garden

Not using all your garden space this winter? Take this time to improve the soil. Cover it with chopped leaves this autumn and leave them on top of the garden to decompose. You may also compost in place by digging deep trenches and adding your vegetables scraps from the kitchen, covering them deeply as you go. Or, sow clover over the area as a cover crop you can turn into the ground in the fall. USDA researchers have been working with a no-till garden technique where they plant a ground cover and mow it down very close in late spring. Instead of tilling it under, the crops are left in place and vegetables like tomatoes are planted through it. The clover adds nitrogen to the soil and adds organic matter as it dies and breaks down.

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