January 2008
How's Your Garden?

This is the time to dream of your next garden and to catch up on things left undone. Let an armchair, a teacup and catalogs be your tools.

Spraying Orchard Now = Fewer Problems Later

Defend your fruit trees against pests and diseases with dormant sprays, which are applied to dormant, leafless deciduous trees and shrubs. There are typically two sprays applied at the same time. Dormant oil (horticultural oil) controls over-wintering insects like aphids, thrips and mites. Lime-sulfur spray helps control peach leaf curl and fire blight, diseases caused by fungus. Both meet organic standards. Some diseases respond best to copper sprays, but these sprays can’t be combined with the dormant oils. Spray separately.

Ideally, the first spray was done after the trees dropped all their leaves in late fall. If not, start now. The second round is usually around the New Year, and the third, just before the trees start to bud, which would make Valentine’s Day a safe date to remember.

A Disposable Cold Frame

If you want a quick cold frame for starting new plants without having to build something, make one from hay bales. Use six bales to make a rectangle two bales long and one bale wide. Leave it open in the center and this will just enough room for a couple of flats of cuttings or seeds. Lay old windows or clear plastic over the opening to let in sunshine and trap heat. By the time your seedlings or cuttings are far enough along to need out, the worst of the cold should be over and you can remove the bales.

Pot feet  
Pot Feet

Tired of containers staining your deck or porch? Try pot feet. Three feet for each round pot will raise the pot enough to allow air circulation and help keep soil, water and mildew from staining the surface. Weatherproof, fired clay feet will last for years and are priced affordably at about $1 each.

Reach for the Long Pruners

Between now and late February you’ll find yourself doing a lot of pruning. To make the job easier, especially on thorny roses or other plants that scratch your arms or catch on
Osteospermum AstiWhite  
shirtsleeves, use long-handled loppers or shears. There are several brands and styles on the market. You may want a couple — a lighter one for lighter jobs like roses, and a heavier lopper for bigger woody plants.

  Viola Skippy
Try Landscape Fabric

Now is a good time to tidy shrub beds with landscape fabric for weed control. Most are a polypropylene material that lasts for years. Topped with a couple inches of mulch, landscape fabric does a pretty good job of keeping down weeds yet allowing the ground to breathe. The alternative, black plastic, degrades quickly and doesn’t allow air or water through. Use fabric only in areas where you won’t be digging later to plant flowers.

Don’t use with ground covers because the fabric will interfere with their spreading. The exception to this is any ground cover juniper whose woody stems creep on top of the ground but don’t root. A layer of fabric and mulch will help prized plants such as azaleas and hydrangeas endure another summer of drought, but let’s hope that won’t be.

Fighting Back Against Invasives

Kudzu may the best-known example of invasive plants species, but there are others
advancing through the land. These include Chinese tallow, Chinese privet, alligator weed, cogongrass and others. If you want to learn more about this problem, join the Alabama Invasive Plant Council, a non-profit organization bringing together horticultural, agricultural, recreational and commercial interests threatened by the spread of invasives. Visit their website at www.se-eppc.org/alabama  for more information. The council was established in 2003 to raise awareness and provide technical, advisory and educational support. You may also contact them at Alabama Invasive Plant Council; 101 Life Sciences Building; Auburn University; Auburn, Alabama 36849 or by calling 334-844-1630. To learn more about the problem of invasives on public lands and on a national level, see the U.S. Fish and WildlifeService’s Center for Invasive Plant Management online training at http://www.fws.gov/invasives/volunteersTrainingModule.

2008 All America Winners

This year an eggplant and two flowers (Osteospermum AstiWhite and Viola Skippy) won awards for outstanding performance throughout the U.S. All America Selections has been selecting outstanding varieties since 1939. You can see this year’s winners and some from previous years growing in the AAS display gardens at Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile, Birmingham Botanical Garden, North Alabama Horticultural Research Center in Cullman and Auburn University.

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