January 2016
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Good Tools Make Work Easier

When it comes to digging, pruning and other garden chores, it pays to buy the best tool you can possibly afford (or wait until you can) because a good tool will do a lot of the work for you. On the other hand, a poor-quality tool will wear you out. Some of the basics are bypass pruners with sharp, replaceable blades; a heavy duty, solid-shank spade with a good perch for the foot (makes it easier to dig a hole), a rubber no-kink hose (saves lots of aggravation), a big trowel and a small trowel with a metal blade and comfortable handle (makes planting easy), and a water breaker wand for the end of the hose (makes it easy to reach). If you are digging up old shrubs, get a long-blade sharpshooter shovel, also called a transplanting spade, to dig deeper. I also like a little hand-held rake for easy cleaning up in beds when I’m down on my hands and knees. If you are only going to have one rake, consider an adjustable aluminum one that will adjust the width of the sweep to make it easy to rake in tight places. Finally, for heavy work, get a sturdy wheelbarrow for hauling plants, soil, compost and stones, and a hand truck. If you use gloves, consider vinyl-coated, stretch gloves because they are multipurpose and have a good grip. They’re even washable, but drip-dry only! All of these make great housewarming gifts for young couples, too.

 
This short log fence becomes a landscape feature along a path in the woods.  

Log Fences are Beautiful

Sometimes a structure such as a short log fence serves as an ornamental focal point in a wide-open woodland landscape. A fence made of logs is a natural because it’s in the vernacular material of the woods, yet the classic cross design provides a touch of style. Such a structure also provides a sense of scale, which is especially nice if you have a path that goes by it, and adds a cultivated touch with a few wildflowers planted around it.

Pots of Daffodils Can Go Outside

After the blooms fade on those delightful, bright little pots of daffodils sold at this time of year, move the plants outdoors immediately. By transplanting to the ground while they are still vigorous, they have a chance of coming back to bloom in your garden next spring and for many springs afterward! Like other daffodils, these like sun to light shade and well-drained soil. Adding a little bone meal or bulb-booster fertilizer to the ground when you plant them will also help.

Winter Color Medley

The container plantings at The Summit shopping center in Birmingham are always a great living display of how pretty pots can look through winter. There are a number of hardy annuals, herbs and succulents cold-hardy enough to make it through our mild Alabama winters. Although now is not the time to plant, it is the time to observe, even take pictures of impressive containers for reference next fall when it is time to plant. The container picture here includes snapdragon, rosemary, curly parsley, viola, dusty miller and Angelina sedum. If the weather drops into the teens, it helps to protect the plants with a frost cloth to protect them from damage so the container continues to look good after the cold spell passes.

 
  This mature Kousa dogwood at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa., has developed a beautiful bark pattern.

Winter Brings Out the Best of Bark

Now is the time to really appreciate the intricacies of the bark of many trees and shrubs making a beautiful contribution to the winter landscape. In the woods, the flaky-bark natives such as oakleaf hydrangea, hawthorn, sycamore, shagbark hickory, white oak and river birch are easy to spot. These also have a place in the landscape, although sycamore, shagbark hickory, American beech and river birch need to be off to themselves on large properties, not in small urban gardens, because of their litter. Oakleaf hydrangea and hawthorn are good choices for the landscape. Other good choices with interesting colored bark include red selections of Japanese maple, ornamental cherries such as Yoshino, Kousa dogwood, lacebark elm and many varieties of crape myrtle, and the green stems of Japanese kerria. After their leaves drop in the fall, these plants expose a beautiful infrastructure of trunks, limbs and stems with unique colors or textures that become a winter-landscape feature. Make some room in your garden for things like this that are different in each season, giving a sometimes all-evergreen landscape some winter flair.

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