March 2013
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


If you can’t plant your onions right away, lay them out in a cool, shady spot.

Last Call for Blueberries

If you’ve been wanting to plant blueberries, but haven’t quite gotten around to it, don’t delay. It’s best to give them a little time in the ground before hot weather arrives. Like azaleas, blueberries have very fine, hair-like roots that need regular watering at first and don’t take well to smothering. You can put a light layer of pine straw (which is acid) over the bare ground to help retain moisture after you plant. Watering is very important; use a drip system or a soaker hose to water your plants regularly and deeply during the first couple of years. Deep watering encourages deep rooting, making plants more drought tolerant later. Once established, the shrubs do very well, and you can pick gallons of berries from each shrub (you’ll need at least two for cross pollination). Recommended varieties for Alabama include Climax, Woodard, Premier, Tifblue, Centurion and Powderblue. In coastal Alabama, try some of the introductions from the University of Florida such as Beckyblue and Bluecrisp, which are hybrids of Southern Rabbiteye and Northern Highbush. Blueberries are pretty shrubs well-suited to neighborhood and urban landscapes. A row of three to five makes a nice, loose screen or background for a flowerbed – just leave yourself a path to pick the fruit!

It’s Onion Time

There is still time to plant onions. Don’t set them too deeply or they may not bulb properly. Bonnie Plants onion bunches should be available at your local Quality Co-op now. If you can’t plant them right away, unbundle them and lay them out in a cool, shady spot out of the weather. It’s okay if they dry out a little bit, that’s better than taking a chance on them rotting in the tight bundle.

There are several ways to maintain beautiful window boxes in warm weather. It is possible to set up a drip irrigation system similar to what is used for container plants. Another option is to plant drought-tolerant plants.


Window Boxes

This beautiful window box is in the historic district of Charleston, SC, where so many of the homes have charming boxes filled with seasonal flowers and foliage. The challenge with window boxes is that they dry out quickly in the summer. Just like a container sitting on the ground, it is possible to set up a drip irrigation system in a window box for easy watering. It’s more work in the beginning to run tubes up to the box and maybe even disguise with the house paint, but it will pay off. Window boxes like drought-tolerant plants, too. These include waxy-leaved begonias, succulents, and other plants such as rosemary and dusty miller, that don’t instantly wither when the beverage service is delayed.

Hints for Climbing Roses

The early blooming climbing roses will begin their show soon. If you don’t have one on a fence, wall or trellis, now is also a good time to plant since it is when the assortment at garden centers is the best. There are a number of climbers that are vigorous, easy and outgrow or outlive blackspot and other typical rose diseases. Some I’ve seen Alabama gardeners favor through the years include Climbing Pinkie, Old Blush, New Dawn, Sea Foam, Buff Beauty, Seven Sisters, Don Juan, Dortmund and American Beauty. A new one proving very tough is Peggy Martin, a Katrina survivor discovered alive after the waters receded. When you have a choice, train climbers where they get morning sun, but are shaded from the blazing afternoon sun.

Cool Weather Flowers

Snapdragons and pansies planted last fall should be coming along very nicely now. If your pansies look leggy, trim them back an inch or two. Today’s snapdragon hybrids are much more heat tolerant than older varieties; so after your snaps bloom, snip off the flower spikes and see how the plants often branch and bloom again, especially in North Alabama.

Now is a good time to plant climbing roses on that empty fence, wall or trellis. If you have a choice, train climbers where they get morning sun, but are shaded in afternoon. 


Swiss chard, which is both frost and heat tolerant, adds great seasonal color to a flower border. In addition, it attracts swallowtail butterflies which lay their eggs on the foliage.

Swiss Chard Is a Lot More than Edible

Yellow Jessamine is a survivor in the garden, not demanding much care other than pruning.

A flower border in my neighborhood was spectacular last spring anchored by a big, beautiful Swiss chard. Swiss chard is one of the few leafy greens that tolerates both frost and heat, so it’s still possible to plant in now for beautiful foliage into summer. While it’s a delicious leafy vegetable for sautéing or adding to soups, it’s also great seasonal color. Parsley is another cold-hardy green that grows well in summer. It is also likely to attract swallowtail butterflies to lay eggs on their foliage and rear a crop of butterflies for summer. One of the best examples of using parsley, kale and chard with flowers is the fall and winter planting at the Summit Shopping Center in Birmingham where large concrete containers are used throughout the walks and entrances to stores. If you are in the area, don’t miss their seasonal flower mixes for a good education on potted combos.

Yellow Jessamine

In spring, I always try to spot yellow jessamine in the pine trees or other places where it climbs and rambles on the roadside. Seeing it in the wild is a good reminder of what a survivor it can be in the garden. In spring the long, twining vine is covered with sunny blooms. The rest of the time the evergreen leaves will cover fences and trellises without demanding much care other than occasional pruning if it outgrows its bounds. It’s easy to find in many garden centers now. You can plant yellow jessamine to adorn a pretty fence or hide an ugly one!

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