October 2007
How's Your Garden?
 
Sow Early Spring Flowers Now

After a searing summer, it is such a pleasure to plant again. The best flowers of early spring — sweet peas, larkspur, cornflowers, hollyhocks and poppies — get their start from seeds now. Although a lot of folks plant these in the spring, their show will be a lot better if you sow them in fall. The seedlings will sit through winter, all the while growing roots so they are ready to shoot upwards at the first hint of warmth in February and March. Sara Groves, a longtime gardener and friend from Georgia, once shared with me a great technique to make sure the seeds sown don’t wash away during winter. Her advice: Put a few seeds and a chunk of clay soil in your palm. Roll to make a ball. Let it dry. Scatter the balls over the bed where you want the seeds to sprout. Winter rains will release the seeds but they are less likely to wash away than if just sprinkled over the ground.

 
Spray greens early to get rid of worms.  
Houseplant Caution

Before bringing houseplants in for winter, it helps to spray them with insecticidal soap or Neem first. This will kill aphids, mites or other insects that might be on any plant, or they will likely spread to other plants once inside. Be sure to spray the underside of the leaves thoroughly.
Go After Cabbageworms

The worms that eat holes in cabbage, collards and other greens need quick attention now. At the first sign of their presence, spray the plants, being especially careful to get down into the folds of leaves. Use Dipel or insecticidal soap. Don’t leave old plants abandoned in the garden because they will breed a new generation of cabbageworms for spring.

 
 
  A pine tree in a large container transitions between seasons.
Try Evergreens in Containers

One of the latest garden trends combines small trees or shrubs with perennials and groundcovers in large pots. Such pots transition from season to season with only occasional watering or grooming. You can often get three to five years of show from a pot before it needs to be disassembled and repotted. When potting, it is very important to use a professional quality potting soil that contains bark, peat and other premium ingredients along with a wetting agent for even distribution of moisture. Also work a timed-release fertilizer into the mix, even if it already contains fertilizer, as some soils do. The amount included is just a booster to get things started, but it won’t last long.

Spinach Grows Best in Fall

Spinach is an annual that bolts when days get warm and are longer than 14 hours. That makes it a much better fall crop than a spring crop; so to enjoy a long harvest of spinach, plant it now. You can plant it in rows, with six to 12 seeds or transplants per foot of row. At this density, you can expect to harvest about a pound of leaves from each foot of row. Spinach leaves taste sweetest in fall because of the cooler weather and touch of frost. If the weather gives plants a chance to harden off, they are surprisingly freeze tolerant too.
 
What Not to Put in the Compost Pile
 

Perhaps you’ve learned the hard way that vegetable scraps heavy with seeds (watermelon, squash or tomato) end up as volunteer seedlings randomly about the garden. The same goes for vines of invasive weed plants such as morning glories. Also, avoid composting plants infested with insect pests or diseases. In theory, the heat that a good compost pile generates is supposed to sterilize the soil, but not every square inch of compost is brought up to temperature. The highest temperature is at the center of the pile. Unless you are a faithful turner, chances are your pile isn’t sterile. Also avoid kitchen waste of meat, fish, grease, cheese, bones or other animal sources that attract rodents. I usually bury these directly in the garden, hopefully deep enough to avoid detection.
 
A pumpkin can make a unique, if short-lasting, vase for a fall bouquet.  

Another thing to watch for is fertilizer. It is common practice to sprinkle a little nitrogen fertilizer on the pile to feed the bacteria, especially when there is a lot of fresh material in the pile. One year I did this without thinking about all the dry leaves that I had added just a few days before. In a matter of days my pile literally burst into flames, fueled by the extra lawn fertilizer I had applied.

Pumpkin Vase

It won’t last long, but it will catch their attention. A hollowed pumpkin makes a unique decoration for fall tables. Use it as a receptacle for a mix of small potted flowers and foliage for fall. You can arrange two to four-inch plants in their containers or slip them from their pots for temporary arrangement. The one pictured contains croton, garden mums, kalanchoe and ivy along with a few springs of bittersweet. The whole thing will last a few days and then you can remove the small plants to use elsewhere. Use moss to hide any gaps.

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