June 2016
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Young pines and other large conifers will grow in a container for a couple of years before they need to be moved to the ground.  

Conifers in Containers

Once upon a time, Southerners thought conifers were primarily plants for Northern gardens. Today we know that many thrive in our climate, too, and are exceptional in containers where they adapt to missed waterings and cold winters. You can start with a young tree, grow it in a large decorative container for a year or two, and then later transplant it to the garden. Proven ones include Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii), mugo pine (Pinus mugo) and Hollywood juniper (Juniperus chinensis "Kaizuka"). On the opposite end of the height chart are ground covers such as shore juniper (Juniperus conferta) and Blue Rug juniper (Juniperus horizontalis "Wiltonii") that stay low (12-18 inches) and spill over the side of a container. Yet most conifers you will see for sale are in-between-sized shrubs such as the popular cultivars of false cypress (Chamaecyparis) with golden threadleaf foliage such as Golden Mop, Gold Thread and Kings Gold that are particularly striking in containers. There are many cultivars of false cypress that vary in size, form and color. Many conifers tend to look alike, especially when young in nursery containers. As much as you may dislike using the scientific names of plants, they really help when trying to distinguish the conifers. Study as you shop, and hold on to plant tags with the names for a record if you should want to buy another plant later. For a good reference on which conifers grow well here try the book, "Landscaping with Conifers and Ginkgo for the Southeast," by Tom Cox of the Cox Arboretum in Canton, Georgia, and John Ruter of the University of Georgia. Both are experienced landscape professionals who have helped introduce Southerners to this once-mysterious group of plants.


Okra Is Heat Proof

One of the few summer veggies you can still plant from seed and enjoy many harvests before the end of the growing season is okra. Seeds planted now will bear fruit from late July until frost. Soak the seeds before planting and keep them moist; often slow to sprout in cool spring soils, okra seeds will respond more quickly now. Folks who really enjoy trying new things might want to look at the interesting assortment of heirloom varieties with pods of varying length, width and color. For an even faster start, Bonnie Plants also offers Clemson Spineless seedlings that are ready to transplant.


Great Big Ferns

Need something showy for the patio in a hurry? Get giant ferns. Sold in large containers or baskets, they are ready to hang as is or transplant into a big decorative pot. Look for them to be advertised or on sale now because this is their prime season. Kimberly Queen is an Australian fern whose country of origin is a good indicator of how rugged it can be in the garden. It is easiest to maintain in light shade, but will also grow in sun provided it gets regular watering. To keep it looking dark green, fertilize monthly with a water-soluble fertilizer containing micronutrients such as iron. Other big ferns are Boston fern, Dallas fern and macho fern. Macho fern can get 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide. All of these appreciate light shade. To carry the ferns through winter for next spring, just cut back the fronds before freezing weather arrives in the fall and put them in a bright place that stays in the 40s or above. They will need to be watered occasionally to keep the roots from drying.

  Zebra longwing is a tropical butterfly that may be found in Alabama during the summer.


A Summer Visitor

This unusual tropical butterfly, unmistakable with its long, artful wings, is a treat to see in the summer garden. Perhaps it has flown up from Florida where it is so common it was named the state butterfly! The adults feed on many flowers, with one of their favorites being lantana. They fly gracefully and slowly, often letting you approach and watch them up close in the garden. They lay eggs on passion vine that grows wild in many parts of Alabama. So keep your eyes open for this tropical butterfly, knowing that you’ve spotted a special visitor if it comes into your garden.


Squash vine borers destroy stems, most often at the base of the plants.  

Are Your Squash Plants Okay?

Many times gardeners only get to pick squash once or twice before the plants suddenly begin wilting and die, leaving one wondering what they’ve done wrong. Usually the culprit is the squash vine borer moth that laid eggs on the stems of the plants weeks earlier, and now the caterpillars hatched from those eggs have burrowed into the stems. Once inside, they chew on plant tissues while hidden from sight until so much chewing is done that the plant is no longer able to sustain the stem when it suddenly wilts and dies. It’s impossible to control the pests once they are inside the plant. Some gardeners protect the vines with insecticide sprays on the underside of the leaves and stems as the young plants grow, but it is difficult to keep them thoroughly and consistently covered to avoid all damage. One way to avoid the pests is to grow butternut or green striped cushaw that the pests don’t seem to bother.

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