April 2016
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

 
  Flowers can be used as decorations on your cake. Just make sure you don’t use anything that could be harmful if eaten.

Made With Cake Flower

How’s this for a nice way to decorate a cake from the garden? There isn’t much work involved other than clipping a few fresh flowers and carefully placing them on the cake wherever you like. Just be sure to use flowers that aren’t harmful and that haven’t been treated with pesticides. This is not to suggest that you eat the flowers. They are primarily for decoration, but you would want to choose some that aren’t harmful. Some edible flowers include lavender, pansy, nasturtium, daylily, dill, chives, chrysanthemum, bachelor’s button, dandelion, citrus blossom, bee balm and marigold. Simply clip them from the garden and place them at the last minute so the cake is cut before the blossoms wilt.

Pots are Easy When Set Up Correctly

Plants growing in containers are easy to manage and keep handy near your door. But remember, they depend on you for soil, food and water. Give them the best so they will grow well. Always use a premium potting mix for whatever you plant in a pot because potting mixes are especially blended to provide the proper balance of air and water critical for good root growth. A container doesn’t hold water as long as the ground and will need water more often. One way to simplify watering is to set a pot up on a drip system that is on a timer so it takes care of itself. Because nutrients are often washed out of a pot through frequent watering, it’s a good idea to use a liquid fertilizer in addition to any timed-release products included in the soil when potting. If you grow palms, citrus or other tropicals, use special palm or citrus fertilizers containing iron and other nutrients needed in larger quantities by these plants.

Stretch Out Tomato Season

Enjoy tomatoes for the longest time possible by planting early and late-maturing varieties including determinate and indeterminate types. You’ll know you’re doing well if you stretch your harvest to the point where you’ll feel guilty leaving plants for vacation. Mix it up with earlier types such as Early Girl, Celebrity or Better Bush for the first harvests, and Better Boy, Big Boy, Bonnie Original, Super Fantastic, Black Krim, or Roma-types for high summer. Then there are the later big tomatoes such as Cherokee Purple, Brandywine and German Queen that will take two or three weeks longer to produce the first ripe tomato. If you keep plants sprayed with Neem this summer to help keep most insects and diseases down, and if you water steadily with drip irrigation to keep up the moisture and prevent cracking, you’ll be in tomato heaven from June until nearly Thanksgiving. You may also have a big harvest of green tomatoes to bring in before that final killing frost.

 
Horseradish is a pretty perennial plant and gives you a renewable source of horseradish root.  

Horseradish

One of my pet peeves is how the grated horseradish I buy in little jars at the grocery store turns brown before I can use it all. Well, know I have eliminated that problem with my own renewable source of horseradish root. It’s a pretty perennial plant in my herb bed with large, coarse-textured leaves. Whenever I need a little horseradish, it is easy to dig up a piece of root and crush or chop it. I started mine from a plant I mail-ordered, but plants can also be started from pieces of purchased fresh root or "pass-along" style from another gardener. Horseradish is very cold hardy, so plant it in a place where you can leave it alone and it will live for a long time – as long as the soil drains well and it gets sun at least half of the day. A new plant needs time to grow good roots, so leave it alone until next spring for the first harvest. You can encourage bigger roots by removing some of the sprouts making new leaves, leaving just a few.

Citrus Trees Need Special Food

Whether you are growing citrus in the ground in South Alabama or in a container elsewhere, now is the time to fertilize your trees with citrus food if you have not already done so. Citrus needs a special fertilizer containing magnesium, manganese, zinc, and iron, as well as the more common nutrients found in most complete fertilizers – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Without these extra nutrients, the leaves will be yellow and the plant will not thrive, so go the extra mile and give these little trees what they need so they can produce a good crop. My potted kumquat tree has a nice growth habit and bears well. My satsuma yielded 20 very sweet, delicious fruit last year in an 18-inch pot. Although not a lot of fruit, it was so much more flavorful than store-bought because it stayed on the tree until I was ready to eat it. One great thing about citrus is that they hold their quality on the tree for weeks, getting sweeter and more flavorful. Meyer lemon will load up with blossoms and then drop many of them naturally, so don’t be spooked by that. Finding citrus in nurseries is getting easier these days, especially in the spring. Look for full, healthy trees with a good "leader" or main stem that will grow into a small trunk. With good care your tree will live for years and just get bigger and better. At some point you may even need a hand truck to move it into the garage or greenhouse for the winter. That is success!!

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