January 2007
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Mow Monkey Grass or Liriope

Mow mondo and liriope to get rid of old, tattered foliage. The new leaves begin sprouting from down in the crown of the plant in late January in warmer parts of the state, so don’t delay. If you wait too late, you’ll clip the new foliage and the ends will be tattered all year. If you want them to grow into a solid ground cover, pull apart clumps and set the plantlets about six inches apart over the area that you want to cover. Mulch with fine pine bark to avoid a weed problem later.

Botanical Gardens May Surprise You

Did you know that former Georgia football coach Vince Dooley is a Master Gardener? He will be at the Birmingham Botanical Garden on March 8th to share his gardening experiences on his 40-acre garden as the featured speaker at the Spencer Lecture, an annual event featuring notable horticulturists. Contact the BBG at 205-414-3950 for additional information. Tickets become available in late January.

Botanical gardens throughout the Southeast feature many interesting events. Check the ones nearest you for a list of educational programs, children’s camps, flower shows, and many other interesting activities.

Winter Reminders for Perennial Flowers

Dig and divide iris that stopped blooming because they are too crowed. Throw away the old rhizomes; replant the younger ones.

Dig and divide daylilies, too.

Rake out the foliage in a bed of lamb’s ears. Then cut back old woody stems. The bed will look destroyed when you finish, but have faith—lamb’s ear bounces back quickly. They look so much better when completely raked out each year.

Cut back ornamental grasses. If they are really thick, use a string trimmer or blade.

Sprinkle a little lime around your Lenten roses. Although they survive in acid soil, they like it better when the soil is nearly neutral.

Remove the dead leaves of peonies and other early blooming perennials if you haven’t already done so. Wait until later to trim back salvia, lantana, and later bloomers.

A Clever Way to Shorten Paperwhites

Have you ever forced paperwhite bulbs only to have them grow halfway to your ceiling? That won’t be the case any more. A research horticulturist and a graduate student at Cornell University have discovered a novel way to keep the plants one-half to one-third shorter. Grow them in a solution of alcohol. That’s right. You can use distilled spirits such as gin but the least expensive source is good ol’ rubbing alcohol (Isopropyl).

Begin by planting the bulbs as usual on a bed of gravel or marbles. When the shoots are an inch or two tall, pour off the water and replace it with a solution of one part rubbing alcohol to 10 parts water. Continue watering with the same. The alcohol apparently stunts the growth enough to keep the plants a reasonable height without affecting the longevity or fragrance of the blooms. So, enjoy your picked paperwhites! You can download more details from the Cornell Department of Horticulture at www.hort.cornell.edu.

Prune Properly

Before you prune landscape plants, keep in mind that pruning corrects the past while determining the future. In addition to reducing a plant’s size, pruning determines the way a plant will grow.

Remove the lower limbs from overgrown large shrubs such as Burford holly or tea olive to train them into small trees. Also remove lower limbs from small trees such as fringe tree or crape myrtle to raise the canopy as the tree grows taller.

Some plants have opposite leaves paired along the branch, each with a new leaf bud in the axil of the leaf. When cutting back to just above a dormant bud, you’ll get two branches in place of the one you removed. Use this to create fullness in spindly boxwoods and other shrubs with opposite leaves.

Other plants have leaves that alternating along either side of the branch. By choosing to cut just above a bud facing the direction you want the new stem to grow, you can direct its new growth. This is particularly useful when pruning roses, fruit, and other plants where you can cut above an outward facing bud to maintain an open center for good air circulation.


Look at your lawn. Do you see lots of winter weeds? If so, consider spot treating henbit and other broadleaf weeds with an herbicide. If there are thin places because of shade, soggy conditions, tree roots, or other poor conditions then consider a better-suited ground cover, mulch, or a shrub bed in that place. Trying to grow grass in places where it does not want to be is a never-ending game.

Flowers and Foliage for Indoors

After the holiday decorations are put away, a room may suddenly seem dull. If so, you can use orchids and bromeliads for flower color, Rex begonias for foliage, and many other plants to enliven the bare spaces. Large specimens and specialties such as Kentia palm, the most elegant palm, will fill the space of a Christmas tree. Small plants for seasonal color such as bulbs, primulas, cyclamen, azaleas, mums, kalanchoe, Reiger begonias, and African violets combine with ivy and foliage for tabletop arrangements. Elevate these combinations in a plant stand for height to fill a corner with a showy seasonal centerpiece.

Keep plants away from heating vents to avoid dry heat. Avoid roots standing in water; any saucer that fills with water needs to be emptied. Away from windows, select tried-and-true lower light plants—aglonema, parlor palm, pothos, and philodendron.

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