February 2012
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


Camellias, which offer blooms from November to March, do best if you remove the old mulch under them each winter and replace with fresh to help keep them healthy.

Camellia Care

Rake away old mulch from below camellias and azaleas and replace with fresh to help protect the blossoms from petal blight, a disease turning the flowers brown. The fungus spores from last year are in the mulch and soil. By replacing the mulch, you will help prevent re-infection.

When temperatures are above 40° you may also spray horticultural or dormant oil on the underside of the leaves, and trunk and limbs and stems to help combat scale.

Tea scale shows up as a white, dusty presence on the underside of the leaves. On the top of the leaves, the green color fades to yellow where the scale insects are attached and sucking juices from the plants.

Plant Valentine Bulbs in the Garden

Many of the pretty flowering tulips, daffodils and hyacinths sold in pots for Valentine’s Day can become permanent residents in your garden. Move them outdoors when the blooms fade, planting in the ground at the depth they are growing in the container. Fertilize with a bulb booster fertilizer when you plant. Tulips do best in North Alabama gardens while paperwhites and amaryllis do best in South Alabama. Most daffodils do well all over, although some varieties thrive better than others. It’s usually impossible to know what is in the pot, as they are not labeled, just plant them to see. All bulbs need perfect drainage. A soggy spot is sure to kill them. They also like at least a half day of sun for the best bloom.

Protect kumquat trees to prevent damage from sub-freezing temperatures.


Kumquats Are a Nice Garden Surprise

Little kumquat trees sold this time of year need to be protected from freezing weather. Put them in a sunny spot under an overhang and be prepared to move them into the garage or sunny spot indoors during freezing weather. Kumquats are pretty little trees that will get 8 to 10 feet tall in North Florida and warm spots of South Alabama. Come spring, South Alabama gardeners may plant them in the ground on the south side of the house or building where they will get a lot of protection from winter winds. A sunny spot is best for lots of good, tasty fruit. Plant so the knot, or graft near the base of the trunk, is a couple of inches above the soil line. Kumquats sold in stores are likely to be either Changshou or Meiwa varieties. Changshou is a large fruited-type with a sweet mild flavor, fewer seeds and more juice than Meiwa. Meiwa has large, rounded, very sweet flesh and rind. It is very ornamental and bears heavily. There is also a seedless Meiwa variety. Once well-established, most large kumquat trees can tolerate temperatures of 17 to 20 degrees without damage. However, if you’re like most gardeners and really love your special tree, it won’t hurt to throw a heavy frost cloth over it, especially if the temperature stays cold for a long time. Sometimes it’s not a short-lived low temperature, but long exposure to sub-freezing temperatures that damage our half-hardy plants.

Great Backyard Bird Count

The 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count happens February 17-20. You can participate for any length of time during this event counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. To report counts, you need Internet to access Great Backyard Bird Count’s website. You can also browse the site to learn a lot about your local birds in general. Find out more at www.birdsource.org/gbbc/whycount.html.


Plant onion bunches as soon as they begin appearing in stores near you. Onions are surprisingly tolerant of cold.

Plant Onions Now

Now is the time to start planting your onion sets and transplants. Onions take up such little space in the garden yet provide pounds of flavor for months. A late colleague, Jim Wilson of Victory Garden fame, once ranked vegetables by their return per square foot of space. Onions were near the top of the list. If you like green onions, plant extras you can pull early or cut the tops from without ruining the bulbs.

Fescue Lawn Care

If you have a fescue lawn, it will be growing vigorously again during the first mild days of late-winter and early-spring. Mow it no lower than about three inches because cutting it too low weakens the grass and encourages weeds. Taller grass grows deeper roots that come in handy when it gets hot and dry in the summer, which coincides with fescue’s naturally weakest time! Fertilize very lightly in spring only if the lawn looks too yellow and weak; otherwise, wait to fertilize it in the fall. Unlike warm-season grasses like Bermuda, zoysia and centipede, cool-season fescue starts its growing season in the fall and goes near-dormant in the summer. Although fall is the ideal time to seed bare spots, you can still do so in early spring. Kentucky 31 is the most economical and oldest selection, but newer ones like Dynasty, Falcon, Mustang, Plantation and Rebel have more dense growth and a finer texture.

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