May 2012
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Big Leaves, Big Results

A favorite summer plant among gardeners who like something different in the garden is elephant ear. Folks near the coast might find them more familiar, but for the rest of the state they’re a little more exotic. You can buy a basic elephant ear bulb for about $10 or one already grown to a good size in a pot for perhaps twice that. In return, you get a big, bold, dramatic statement in your garden. There are many types, colors and forms of elephant ear. Some have very upright leaves, others droop a little more. Some have leaves large enough to stand under, while others have more narrow leaves. In the case of some varieties, it seems like the more water they get, the larger they will grow. If you want to explore the many types and find the most exotic (and more pricey), look up the websites of companies who carry the assorted types by entering "elephant ear bulbs" in your search bar. You may be surprised at the choices available. Use elephant ears in combination with colorful plants and in containers for a big tropical splash in your summer garden. Some need more sun than others, so look carefully at the cultural requirements when you buy.


A pretty little bridge can be added to your yard to transform a low spot with a seasonal creek into a landscape feature.

A Pretty Little Detail

This pretty little bridge over a low spot on a piece of property turned an awkward place along a path into a landscape feature. This bridge is at the Rodale Institute’s experimental farm in Kutztown, Pa., but it’s an idea that may be adapted anywhere. Summer is a good time to spend working in the shade, so if your property has a wooded spot with a seasonal creek, this might inspire you to build a nice footpath across it.


Cineraria can be an addition to your garden now, but keep it in afternoon shade and watered. As the weather begins to cool in September, it should revive. (photo from istock)


A couple of months ago I saw beautiful baskets of cineraria for sale in garden centers. These are bright, cheery, daisy-like flowers with highlights of blue, purple or pink. If you bought one of these and find it is waning, it’s not because you have a brown thumb. Cineraria likes cool weather, which is hardly Alabama this time of year. Keep your plant in afternoon shade and watered to help it live through the summer. Like mums, trim it back in early July if it’s too tall and lanky. As the nights cool down in September, the plant should revive and you may see a new crop of blooms in the fall.

Tomatoes for Deep South Summers

As the weather warms up, tomatoes crank up, too. Eventually, summer can become unfriendly to the plants when extreme heat causes the blooms to stop setting fruit. Plant breeders have been working on this problem to come up with traditional hybrids (not GMOs) more resistant to heat. Many of these are available from Bonnie Plants, an AFC subsidiary. As you continue setting out tomatoes for later harvests, look for Summer Set, Solar Fire, Florida 91, Phoenix and Talladega. You’ll also find heat tolerance in cherry tomatoes. Keep plants well-watered, preferably with a drip or soaker hose to help keep the foliage dry. However, if we have a drought, I find overhead watering occasionally (every couple of weeks) helps to ward off mites which tend to be worse during dry weather. Do it very early in the morning on a day that is predicted to be sunny so the foliage will dry quickly.


Angelonia is proving to be a good summer flower. Also known as summer snapdragon, hummingbirds like it – another plus.


Angelonia is a relatively new flower in our gardens, but is proving to be a good one for summer. Native to Mexico and the West Indies, it is an upright plant with slender spikes of many small orchid-like blooms. Also called summer snapdragon, it blooms continuously through summer heat. Rub the foliage to detect a light fruity fragrance. The airy nature and little bloom spikes of Angelonia work nicely in containers where it often winds through and around the leaves of its neighbors to make a casual and charming combination. Angelonia needs full sun or light shade and enough water and fertilizer to thrive, but no continual pampering once established. Another plus: hummingbirds like it. There is a trailing form of AngelMist that works great in containers. Although they don’t require it, plants will respond to trimming back with more growth and blooms provided you give them a few weeks to grow back before cold knocks them back in the late fall. Along the Gulf Coast, Angelonia may come back like a perennial. AngelMist is a popular line of Angelonia with blooms in white and shades of pink, blue and purple.


Gardenias May Need a Pick-Me-Up

This is the month that gardenias would like a little attention, especially a good feeding. Evergreens like gardenias lose their old leaves in spring. In addition, blooming takes a lot from their nutrient stores. So, if your plants are looking tired and yellow, they might need a little more than just ordinary fertilizer supplying nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, but no iron and other nutrients. Apply a liquid micronutrient solution to yellowing plants and be patient while the leaves respond. Look for "chelated" products which will be available to the plant quickly. This is a way to supply the extra iron, sulfur, magnesium, manganese and other nutrients all plants need in small, but essential quantities.

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