March 2012
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


Dahlias are easy to grow and make beautiful garden flowers.


Try Dahlias

Look for dahlia tubers for sale in your favorite garden centers for spring planting. Dahlias are easy to grow and make beautiful garden flowers. All are good for cutting, but the tall ones are especially nice. Tubers are often sold in little plastic bags and may have begun sprouting in the bags while on the shelf. Look for tubers that are only slightly sprouted or not at all. If you see a three or four-inch shoot coming from the bulb, it’s better to pass on that one. You can also find online nurseries specializing in dahlias. Many are in the West. A web search for ‘dahlia tubers for sale’ will turn up multiple sources and give you an idea of the wide assortment available. Dahlias need full sun and good drainage. Scratch a ¼ cup of triple super phosphate in the bottom of the planting hole to help make good strong stems, especially on the tall varieties so great for a vase. It’s easy to get hooked on these flowers. If that happens to you, join the local chapter of the American Dahlia Society, where you will find other gardeners who share your passion. Many members exhibit their blossoms in local shows. The Alabama Dahlia Society meets at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens during the year and shows blossoms there in early fall. For more information, visit

Bonnie plants and vegetables arrive at the Co-op at the approximate planting time.


Vegetable and Herb Plants Available Now

An assortment of vegetable and herb transplants from Bonnie Plants is available now. They arrive at your local Quality Co-op at the approximate planting time, so be on the lookout for your spring garden. Include tasty herbs like parsley, basil and thyme to savor the best fresh flavors from your garden! Herbs are handy for pots, too. Be sure your plants are well watered and the peat pot is dark-brown moist when planting.

Tomato planting season begins in South Alabama later this month! Get your big pots ready, break out the stakes and cages, and clean up the planting beds. Be prepared with some mulch on-hand and a good fertilizer. If planting in containers, don’t skimp on potting soil and don’t be tempted to use garden soil. Good potting soil is key to good growth in pots because it stays fluffy and stands up to frequent watering.

Shrubs That Attract Butterflies

Add another reason for butterflies to visit your yard by planting some shrubs that will bloom for them year after year. Abelia, butterfly bush and althea are three very common ones that are easy to find. These have a long bloom season and are sure to attract a variety of butterflies looking for nectar in the summer and early fall. To learn more about Alabama butterflies, look for these two books written by local authors: Butterflies of Alabama: Glimpses into Their Lives by Paulette H. Ogard and Sara C. Bright and Butterflies of Alabama by Mike Howell and Vitaly Charny. If you need a fun place to take children with cabin fever, try the butterfly conservatories at the Huntsville Botanical Garden and Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA. Both are delightful and educational.


Although not a good idea for a living tree, planting petunias is an interesting idea for utilizing an old stump.

Do You Admire Moss and Lichens?

A walk on just about any wooded trail in Alabama showcases a variety of mosses and lichens clinging to rocks, trees and stumps. If you want to learn to identify what you see and learn more about what encourages the growth of these beautiful organisms, check out a class, Native Lichens, Mosses and Liverworts, at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens on March 24. Registration is $45 for non-members and $40 for members. For more information, look up events and classes at

Petunias in a Tree?

It’s a bit unconventional, but when I saw this big petunia plant thriving in a tree trunk it caught my eye. Horticulturally, this is not recommended practice for any tree you are trying to save, but it’s an interesting idea for utilizing an old stump. The simplest way to do this would be to simply buy a basket of petunias and transplant them in the opening.

There is still time to plant strawberries to establish a bed that can last you indefinitely.


Planting Strawberries

There is still time to plant strawberries to establish a bed that can last you indefinitely. Once established, strawberry plants reproduce themselves with new runners that you can leave alone or use to establish more rows of berries. When you plant strawberries, three things are very important: depth, water and cleanliness. Be sure to set out plants in a way so they are not buried too deeply or that soil does not wash over their crown. The crown is the spot where leaves arise from the center of the plant; if that gets buried or covered with soil, the plant often rots. Also, it takes a steady supply of water to produce big berries. Left to the weather, your harvest may be disappointing in size. Finally, mulch the plants to keep the berries clean. If slugs are a problem, black plastic mulch is best, although it is more trouble to put down and clean up than organic mulches. The perfect time to plant strawberries is actually in the fall, but if you’re like most gardeners, you’re more likely to be thinking about it now. Either way, you can read a lot more about different systems for planting strawberries at the Alabama Cooperative Extension website,

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