Helping the Hummingbirds Get Home
Migrating hummingbirds appreciate fresh sugar nectar this time of year as they feed on their way south. You can make your own nectar by dissolving one cup of sugar in four cups of boiling water. Let cool before putting it into the feeder. Hummingbirds will usually empty a feeder in a day or two, but, if not, keep your feeder clean by flushing it out twice a week with hot water (no soap). If you don’t have a brush, put a small handful of uncooked rice in the feeder and shake vigorously to help loosen crud. At the end of the season, soak feeders in a little bleach water (about ¼ cup per gallon of water) to clean them thoroughly before storing.
Whiteflies are tiny, white, moth-like insects that typically rest on the undersides of leaves sucking juices from the plant. (Credit: Bugwood.org)
Knock Back Whiteflies Now
Help reduce whiteflies that love citrus and gardenia by getting them before they overwinter. The tiny, white, moth-like insects typically rest on the undersides of leaves sucking juices from the plant. An infestation can build quickly, deforming the new growth and weakening plants. The whiteflies multiply fast in warm weather and can quickly move from the evergreens in your garden to new leaves of nearby crepe myrtle and other plants in the spring. If you grow citrus in containers and move the pots indoors for the winter, the whiteflies can move to adjacent houseplants, too. Because they lay eggs on the underside of the leaves, now is a good time to spray with horticultural oil to smother eggs and nymphs to help keep down infestations in the winter and prevent problems next spring. Be sure to coat the underside of the leaves thoroughly. The oil will also help loosen sooty mold, the black fungus that often grows on top of infested leaves. The key to control is to cover the underside of the leaves thoroughly. This should delay their appearance in the garden in spring, but spray again in early spring to get any eggs and pupae that might have been missed. Be sure to use a sprayer with a wand. It is impossible to get good coverage with hand-sprayer bottle.
If old beds of irises, hostas, daylilies and other perennials were weak looking last spring, it may be time to rejuvenate the planting by digging, dividing and replanting the healthiest divisions. This offers an opportunity to share divisions with friends and neighbors, too. Maybe even pot them up as Christmas gifts for your garden buddies and neighbors who admire your flowers.
Seed Storing Tip
If you have saved seeds from your favorite plants, look around for little packets of silica gel desiccant often included in shoe boxes and other boxed items to absorb moisture. These will help your seeds stay fresh longer by removing humidity in the air trapped inside the bag. High temperature, light and humidity reduce the storage life of seeds. If you have the space, store seeds in the fridge. Put the plastic bags in a bag or box that blocks light. A second option is a closet or drawer where it’s as cool and dry as possible.
Pineapple Sage Blooms
This time of year the pineapple sage is at its best, drawing bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and people. Did you know you can also enjoy the flowers in dishes such as a salad or atop a cake? They must be added at the last minute, though, as they must be fresh. The flowers have a slight pineapple flavor, just like the fragrance of the leaves. Just be sure you are not picking flowers from a planting that has been treated with any pesticides.
Fall is a great time to add nice color to your garden with annuals and perennials. Annual flowers include dianthus, certain pansies and petunias (sniff before you buy), sweet alyssum, sweet peas, snapdragon, calendula, sweet William, poppies and stock; the farther south you live in Alabama, the more likely these annuals are to bloom in winter and very early spring.
Encore azaleas such as this Autumn Embers add color to your garden from the spring through fall.
Encore and other reblooming azaleas do well when planted in the fall, so keep an eye out for your favorite colors blooming now. Be sure to keep the new plants watered during dry weather. Although their heaviest blooming is in the spring, Encore will put on a good autumn show if the plants are properly fed and have at least four to six hours of sunshine. Dappled pine shade or morning sun is perfect to avoid the stress of hot afternoon sun in the summer. Encore azaleas are evergreen and cold hardy throughout Alabama.
Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.