You can sow seeds of plants like poppies, larkspur, calendula and bachelor’s buttons now and watch them sprout on the first warm days of late winter. These spring flowers do best if they start out early. Scratch the seeds into the soil surface where you want them to grow and water in gently.
Mow These Ground Covers
Winter is a good time to run a mower over evergreen ground covers like liriope and mondo grass to prepare them for spring. This removes old, tattered leaves and clears the way for new growth usually sprouting from the center of the plant in February or March. Our mondo gets so matted we take the additional step of raking it out. It tells us when this is needed because the plants don’t grow well in the spring. If your planting has been in suspended animation, clip it closely with a mower and then get a ground rake or a detaching rake to cut through layers of old leaves forming a thick thatch like lawn grass. The old pieces will come up. Do this every three or four years. You can mow Asian jasmine, too, but wait until after it blooms in spring. Set your mower to its highest setting.
Knock Out® Roses Need Pruning
I often get questions from gardeners wondering about how to care for their Knock Out® Roses. Landscape professionals are nicknaming these long-blooming roses the "new azalea" because of their widespread use. However, after a few years the plants are often bigger than expected and lanky at the base. What to do? Give them a hard pruning to just 8 to 12 inches from the base. Healthy plants will come back strong and bushy. In spring, after new growth begins, you can fertilize the plants with your favorite rose food.
Fig Trees are So Easy
This is the time of year berries and fruit trees begin appearing in garden centers because planting early gives them a head start before warm weather arrives. The absolute easiest to grow is fig. They are fast, have few pests and are very tolerant of weather extremes after a couple of years in the garden to let the roots become well established. Check your local garden center for varieties that do well here. Another excellent choice is blueberry. In both cases, be sure to buy from a source that knows which varieties do well in this area. Fruit is very location specific and if you get varieties not well-adapted, they won’t do well. For figs, consider Brown Turkey, Celeste, Alma, Lemon, LSU Purple and LSU Black. Be sure the spot where you plant them gets full sun and the soil drains well. Also, plant your fig where you can reach the branches easily all the way around the tree to prune it every couple of years. This keeps it low enough to reach all the branches for easy picking. Give newly-planted trees a couple of years to begin bearing fruit.
Tips for Planting Azaleas and Blueberries
If you are planting azaleas or blueberries this winter, the price of peat moss may shock you. Because of unusually wet weather, the harvest of peat was way down last year, so supply is short and prices are high. However, there is a good alternative: bagged soil conditioner. It works in the place of peat moss to provide some acidity and organic matter. Bagged soil conditioner is made from very finely-ground bark, which is usually pine in this area. If you can compost it for a while before planting, all the better.
All America Selections Winners
Vegetable gardeners who like to try something new each season will want to look for the All America Selections winners for this year. Three of the four are vegetables! Black Olive is an ornamental pepper that was a particular standout in the South. The leaves are purple and the fruit is red hot! Although called ornamental, it can be eaten — if you like extremely hot peppers. Another pepper, Cayennetta, is a mild cayenne-type making a compact, sturdy plant and is ready to harvest about three months after sowing which is two to three months from transplanting. Faerie is a unique little watermelon with yellow rind, but red fruit. The melon is only seven to eight inches in diameter and sets fruit in 72 days from sowing, which is two to three weeks earlier than big melons. Finally, the only flower winner is a variety of Salvia coccinea, which is proven to be a great summer and fall variety in this area. However, this one is light pink. It will make a nice addition to the edge of the vegetable garden where it is sure to be visited by hummingbirds and will yield bouquets of cut blossoms.
Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner's Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.