November 2007
How's Your Garden?

  Wild sunflowers
Swamped with Sunflowers

Some wildflowers also make beautiful garden plants, like the bright yellow swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolia) blooming along the roadside now. This plant spreads by seeds and runners.

If you have a large area where it can multiply, let it go. You will be rewarded with masses of small, yellow sunflowers each fall on plants towering 6 to 10 feet high. It will grow just about anywhere—pine woods, wet fields, road shoulders, even ditches and swales—it is equally happy in swamps or a garden.

In dry soil, it is shorter, or you can cut it back in mid-summer to about half its height. Once established you won’t have to worry about drought. Mine looked absolutely pitiful back in August, yet the drought did not keep them from budding. Now that is the kind of garden flower you can like.

Water Cabbages and Other Greens

Cabbage, collards, mustard, turnips and other greens need a steady supply of moisture to develop quickly and form sweet, tender greens. It’s easy to forget watering when plants don’t wilt from heat. A good layer of pine straw mulch along the rows will help keep the ground from drying out quickly, too.

Check the Bulbs

When you buy Dutch bulbs such as daffodils, tulips and hyacinths, make sure that they are in good condition. Judge them the way you would an onion. They should be heavy for their size, firm and without moldy or rotten soft spots. Keep your bulbs in a cool, dark place until late November because the ground is still warm. They get shipped over from Holland to suit a nationwide trade, but this is not the best time to plant in the Deep South.

Enjoy the Last Roses

Garden roses make a comeback this month as the weather cools. Enjoy them longer with Listerine! A professor at Texas A&M recommends about two ounces of the mouthwash per gallon of water to extend the life of cut roses. The mouthwash contains sugar that is a food for the flowers and a bactericide that helps keep the water fresh longer. Sounds worth a try.
Pink hyacinths perfume the yard.  

Hyacinths Smell So Sweet

One of my favorite spring bulbs is the hyacinth — not because it is pretty, actually I find it a bit clumsy. Short, fat, and easy to flop over, hyacinth is not always the best bulb for bedding. However, it is undoubtedly the best bulb for fragrance. Just a few hyacinths can perfume a whole yard. So, when planting your bulbs this fall, tuck in a few of these fragrant delights. You’ll enjoy the scent drifting through the air along with the sounds of songbirds next spring.

Think Big

The scale of the rural landscape is big, so it makes sense to think big when you plant flowers. Instead of buying "one of this and one of that," buy a dozen of something big like the purple Mexican sage pictured here and plant it in mass. When it grows out, it will really have an impact. Fall is a good time to plant perennials and ornamental grasses, so like the ones pictured here, pick out two or three large favorites and plant enough to make passersby say, ‘WOW!’
  A mass of Mexican sage makes an impact on the landscape.

Don’t Wait Until Spring to Plant Pansies

Now in more colors, better colors and with greater tolerance to cold, fall planted pansies will grow to twice the size and produce more flowers than those planted in the spring.

Pansies are surprisingly cold hardy, easily tolerating temperatures of 15 degrees without damage. Generally, the hardiest varieties are those with small, deep colored blossoms. Another key to hardiness is planting early enough to give plants time to root well before cold weather. That is now. A few pansies have a delicate sweet perfume, so sniff before you buy!

Parsley Is Surprisingly Winter-Proof

This is a good time to plant parsley; it loves cool weather. At this late date it is faster to start with transplants of either the flat-leafed Italian types or the curly and extra curled types. If you can’t get transplants, sow seed directly in the garden (they may take two weeks to sprout). Soak seeds overnight and be sure to keep the soil moist or the seeds won’t sprout. Mix parsley with pansies in flowerbeds and the bed will have a presence all winter.

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