March 2007
How's Your Garden?

March tempts us all to plant too early. Just keep the blankets and row covers handy for that inevitable cold spell that will send you scurrying to cover your new babies before nightfall.

New Roses

This year’s All America Rose winners include a new Knockout called Rainbow, named for the blush of yellow in the center of its pink bloom. Knockout roses behave more like a long-blooming landscape shrub than a rose, which explains why they’re hugely popular. Look for other great All America Rose Society (AARS) winners this spring. Strike-it-Rich, is a fragrant and disease-resistant grandiflora. Moondance, a white, spicy-fragrant multiflora will please rose-lovers with resistance to black spot, mildew, and rust.

Three “winners” from All America Rose Society that will be available this spring.

You can read more about all AARS winners at To pique your curiosity about roses, also check out the world’s Hall of Fame at Tried-and-true American favorites such as New Dawn and Double Delight also earn accolades around the globe.

Hints for Climbing Roses

When you have a choice, train climbers against an east-facing wall where they get morning sun but are safe from the afternoon blazes of a western or southern exposure. Avoid planting roses where blasts from air conditioning compressors can damage blooms and dry the plants out. Also plant climbers at least 18 inches away from the wall of your house to avoid the dry band under the eaves.

Put vigorous roses such as Lady Banksia where they can grow with abandon, or where their tops are easily reached with a ladder for pruning.

Improved Potting Mixes

Today’s potting soil comes with many bells and whistles. One of my favorites is a mix that includes polymer crystals that hold extra water in the soil without making it soggy. Anytime that you can increase the time between waterings for pots, you’re doing yourself a big favor. You can also buy the crystals in a jar. I hydrate the crystals first and mix them into the soil in a wheelbarrow before filling my containers.

Easier Watering for Pots and Baskets

A good watering wand with a water breaker is great for containers because the flow is regulated and gentle. The long wand makes reaching high hanging baskets and window boxes a whole lot easier, too.

A Tip For Dahlias

For the strongest dahlia stems ever, take this advice given to me by a fellow gardener in the Dahlia Society. When planting the tubers of tall dinner plate types, add a 1/4-cup of triple super phosphate in each planting hole. Your dahlias will grow such sturdy stems that you may need a saw to cut them down. Just kidding, but they won’t flop over so easily.


You can buy lawn fertilizers now to be sure that you get what you need, but wait until the weather brings out the new green blades before applying to warm season grasses. Centipede doesn’t like too much feeding or it will decline. Feed it just once in the spring with a product that contains iron for a little extra greening. Centipede 15-0-15 is perfect because it omits phosphorous that can cause the grass problems.

Other warm season grasses (St. Augustine, Zoysia and Bermuda) appreciate fertilizer in the spring and summer, their peak growing months. A slow-release source of nitrogen with trace elements will help your grass stay green while growing at a sane rate through the warm season.

However, if you have fescue, a cool-season type, this is a good time to give it the last feeding before the weather turns too hot for it. Fescue is better off with just water but no fertilizer during the hot months or you will encourage disease.

Tomatoes for Many Months

Want to enjoy tomatoes from the same vine until frost next fall? It can be done. Start with a good, disease-resistant indeterminate variety such as Early Girl, Better Boy, Bonnie Original, Superfantastic or other favorites. Plant in rich, well-prepared ground or a 5-gallon container filled with premium potting mix and timed-release fertilizer. Set your plant deeply so that all but the top two leaves are buried. Water at ground level to avoid wetting the leaves and mulch to keep the ground moist.

The trick is to keep diseases and insects from consuming your plants. Fortunately, gardeners now have a great ally in a product called Neem; it kills mites and also controls many insects and diseases. Spray your plants with Neem every week or two, depending on disease and insect pressure. Be sure to coat both sides of the leaves and reach into the interior of the plant. Good coverage is critical.

Cool Weather Flowers

Those snapdragons and pansies that you planted last fall should be coming along very nicely now. If your pansies look leggy, trim them back an inch or two. In South Alabama, just leave them because they will soon be replaced with warm season flowers. Today’s snapdragon hybrids are much more heat tolerant than older varieties, so after your snaps bloom, snip off the flower spikes to keep them in place until fall. Water through summer and they might surprise you with a great flush of bloom in autumn, especially in North Alabama.

Have a great time getting back out into the garden this month.

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