December 2006
How's Your Garden?

Amaryllis Go from Windowsill to Flower Bed

Amaryllis is spectacular and easy! Try this stately flower to brighten your kitchen or any room in mid-winter. Boxed amaryllis is usually pre-potted and ready to grow as soon as you water. Keep it moist and in a bright place to get it going. You can combine amaryllis with pots of ivy, ferns, and other small foliage or color in your favorite basket to make a nice tabletop arrangement. Amaryllis in full bloom can get top heavy, so tie each stalk to a florist’s stake so it doesn’t come crashing down.

After your amaryllis blooms, keep it in a bright place and water to keep it from drying out. In the spring, you can transplant it to the garden. Next spring it may surprise you with another big bloom popping out of your flowerbed. Choose a garden spot that drains well and gets at least four hours of sun daily. Drainage is especially important or the bulb will rot. Plant the bulb so that the neck is an inch or two below ground. Fertilize with a bulb booster at planting.

Tis Still the Season for Camellias. Shop Now.

An important part in Alabama landscape history, Camellias are the official state flower. During the 1940s they were among the most popular plants sold, and they are still a favorite today. While many new varieties have come along, it is interesting to see how far back some varieties go. Alba plena was introduced through Charleston, South Carolina in 1792.

Winter is a good time to shop for camellias because this is when they are in bloom. With hundreds to choose from, you are sure to find colors to please. If you select early, mid, and late season varieties, you can enjoy them all winter long in the southern part of the state. Bellingrath Gardens in Mobile and Birmingham Botanical Garden have nice collections of these pretty shrubs. For history buffs, here is a list of some popular old ones and the dates that they were introduced.

Alba Plena (1792)
Aunt Jetty (1811)
Chandleri Elegans (1831)
Daikagura (1891)
Magnoliaflora (1886)
Debutante (early 1900s)
Jordans Pride (1875)
Pink Perfection (1875)
Pink Empress (1887)
Rubra (1840s)

Plant Deciduous Fruit

The dead of winter is the perfect time to plant blueberries, grape vines, and deciduous fruit trees for a home orchard. If you plant peaches, apples, or blueberries, pay close attention to the bloom times of the varieties you select to help avoid freeze damage. There is quite a difference in chilling hours from North Alabama to the coast. Your regional Extension agent can recommend varieties for your county.

A Recipe for Birds

To increase the number of birds visiting your yard, give them water, shelter, and food. A combination of dense evergreen plants, plants with berries, and seed feeders will attract different types of birds. Choose feeders that protect the seed from wind and rain so that it doesn’t mold.

Woodpeckers love suet and you can make your own with the following recipe shared by my late mother-in-law who got it from one of her Audubon birding buddies. She liked it because it is easy to make, won’t melt on a warm day, and is a good source of protein for birds.

1 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 cups quick cooking oatmeal
2 cups cornmeal
2 cups Crisco® (2 sticks)
1 cup white flour (avoid self-rising)
1/3 cup sugar

Melt Crisco and peanut butter over low heat. While Crisco and peanut butter are melting, stir together the remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. After the Crisco and peanut butter are melted, combine with the remaining ingredients. Stir until well mixed. Pour into plastic containers that are the same size as your suet basket. Store in freezer or refrigerator.

Note: One recipe is just the right amount to fill an aluminum foil pan (that rolls come in) to about 1/2 inch deep. After it hardens, cut into squares that fit your basket.

About Rose Grades

This is the time to start thinking about your rose bed and varieties that you may want to add. Did you know that roses get grades? The grade refers to the size and vigor of the plant. Those rated #1 are the best. Anything lower sacrifices cane size and root strength. Look for the grade printed on the package or tag.

The sandy, nematode infested soil and almost never-ending season of South Alabama can be especially hard on fancy hybrid roses. Varieties grafted onto fortuniana rootstock are more vigorous and resistant to nematodes. If you’ve ever had a favorite hybrid rose just sort of fade out after a few years, you may want to try the variety again on a fortuniana rootstock. It will have a better chance for a long life!

Helpful Tools

Before the gardening season gets cranked up, take a hard look at your hand tools. It pays to own good quality, sturdy tools with proper functional and ergonomic design. Good tools do a lot of the work for you. Strong, sharp hand pruners are first on the list. Without them pruning is like struggling with a dull knife. Trowels are also a must. Styles with a large handle are comfortable and less tiring to use. Many gardeners have more than one trowel to vary sizes, scoop designs, and tips best suited for specific jobs. Rounded, scoop-like styles are good for potting, while those with a deep, pointed tip are great for digging new planting holes in the ground.

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