February 2008
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Join bird lovers from around the country in the Great Backyard Bird Count.
By Lois Trigg Chaplin

The Great Backyard Bird Count

From February 15 through 18 (President’s Day weekend), you can join bird lovers from around the country to count birds at home or wherever you are. This is the eleventh year of the very successful Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual event that engages bird watchers to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent. The bird count is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. Scientists use the counts, along with observations from other projects, to help provide information about birds in winter. Each year these data are collected makes them more meaningful and allows scientists to further investigate bird behavior. To participate you will need website access for instructions and to upload your results. Even though the count lasts four days, you can participate by counting for as few as 15 minutes. To participate, visit www.birdsource. org/gbbc.

Forsythia Signals Rose Pruning

There’s no need to check the almanac for when to prune roses. The ideal time to prune generally coincides with when the yellow blooms of forsythia begin to appear.

Take Knockouts to the Ground

Last year I had the good fortune to spend many hours sitting next to William Radler on a bus tour of Philadelphia gardens. Most gardeners won’t recognize his name, but they do know his roses, the now famous, long-blooming and disease-free Knockouts. It was fascinating to hear of the backyard breeding that resulted in such a great commercial landscape rose. Anyway, the point of all this is to say Mr. Radler wants folks to know his Knockouts need to be pruned to eight to ten inches from the ground in late winter just before new growth begins. This is so they maintain their vigor and do not encourage any secondary disease. So there it is, straight from the horse’s mouth. If you had any doubts about pruning Knockouts, now you know.

Cut tulips are beautiful in all their stages.
Enjoy Cut Tulips in All Their Stages

Cut flower bins in stores fill up with tulips this time of year. These are beautiful cut flowers as they go through several stages. At first tulip flowers and stems are upright, but the petals soon relax to where they look more like a single poppy than a tulip. At the same time the stems relax too, giving the whole vase a rather floppy look. If the floppy stems bother you, simply cut them shorter. If you do this each day, the whole arrangement is said to last longer according to the Netherlands Flowerbulb Institute, the U.S. marketing and information group for Dutch bulbs.

A Permanent Tomato Cage

Take advantage of downtime to work on garden infrastructure. Last year I visited a garden where the tomato cages were not only functional, but when they weren’t holding up tomatoes, they were also like works of art. I liked these cages, made from welded concrete reinforcement bars, because they provide a sturdy support that stays in place until you are
Tomato cages made of welded concrete reinforcement bars provide sturdy support.
ready to rotate the planting spot. You can see how simple they are to construct just by looking at the picture. At the time this was taken, the tomatoes had been pulled and the last of the summer flowers filled in around the base of the cages. The shortest cages were used for big peppers or bush-type tomatoes.

Sow Poppy Seeds Now

Now is the time to start a bed of Shirley poppies. If you’re living right, it will reseed itself year after year. Because these pretty plants don’t transplant well, the easiest way to start a bed is from seeds. However, the tiny poppy seeds in your muffins are the same size as the ones you will sow in the garden, so you have to keep them from washing away. A very thin layer of straw or pine needles will keep them from splashing. Also, pat the seeds into the ground so they are lodged in. When watering, use a gentle spray. A mister nozzle is ideal. Or, you can put a few seeds in a clump moist soil in your hand to make balls of "seeded" mud to scatter over the bed. The seeds release gradually as the mud ball breaks down.

Primulas Outside?

Those pretty primulas that come in Valentines baskets are also hardy enough to plant outdoors in South and Central Alabama. They often tolerate temperatures in the low 20s. I use them to spruce up garden pots in mid-winter when I just did not get around to planting pansies in fall.

Drought Stricken Ornamentals

The drought we’re experiencing is a good lesson in what will survive under severe conditions, so look around. In the meantime, remove dead portions of plants, especially overhead limbs. While the drought continues, consider containers of color at the front entrance and other key spots. Again, these are easier to water with small amounts collected indoors, or you can even set them up on a limited drip irrigation system designed just for pots. Also choose drought-tolerant plants like sedums, aloes, agaves and hardy palms in your pots to keep them worry free.



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