March 2014
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Unlikely pots made of polypropylene fabric house fruit trees, strawberries and other plants at the Parliament garden in Quebec, Canada, last summer.  

Alabama Master Gardener Conference

Master Gardeners from around the state will be attending their annual meeting in Mobile April 28-30. Although attended primarily by folks who have gone through Master Gardener training and volunteered for the program, the conference is open to any gardener. The weekend event is full of learning opportunities for gardeners to learn from speakers, attend workshops and also browse the trade show. You can view the meeting agenda, speaker bio and learn more about the conference at

Pots That Fold for Storage

Landscape fabrics have found a new life stitched into containers for growing plants. This summer while attending a conference in Quebec, Canada, I toured a display vegetable garden on the front lawn of the Parliament building in this beautiful historic city. This was the first time edibles had been on display there, and the designers had done a fabulous job of creating a walk-though garden for tourists. While the entire spot was quite popular, the containers stitched from fabric piqued a lot of curiosity. The containers were up to 30 gallons in size, big enough for small fruit trees. The fabric is a non-woven polypropylene that stands up to the weather, allows good air exchange for the roots to breathe and drains well. Originally designed for trees to prevent circling of the roots, the concept has been adopted by gardeners for growing all kinds of plants from flowers and herbs to woody trees and shrubs. It’s a great way to have containers in the garden that are relatively inexpensive and are easy to store. You can Google "fabric pots" and learn more about the types of pots available.

  The thickened, knotty growth caused by root knot nematodes makes it impossible for roots to do their job of taking up water and nutrients from the soil.

Nematodes Ruin Roots

This past summer when we returned from vacation, two of our eggplants were wilting even though they had enough water. When that happens, it’s a pretty good sign there is a problem within the vascular system of a plant – it’s not able to move water. Upon removing the plants, I found a very unhealthy, knotted, scabby-looking root system made that way by root knot nematodes. These microscopic nematodes live in the soil and love the roots of tomatoes and related crops. Since tomato planting time is upon us, I thought this would be a good time to share this experience and remind gardeners, if this has happened to you, there are varieties of vegetables resistant to the pests. These include Bonnie’s Atkinson, Better Boy, Big Beef, Celebrity, Lemon Boy, Parks Whopper and any variety grafted onto a nematode-resistant rootstock. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any eggplant resistant to the critters, so I am moving the two eggplants we count on for a summer supply to a container this year and will try parsley in the same spot from last year. It looks like we will be eating lots of tabouli this summer!

Left to right, Loran strawberry is a new everbearing type. Tristan strawberry will wow you with its colorful blooms ... and you get strawberries!

New Strawberries from Bonnie Plants

  Succulents are a great choice for a topiary because they are not thirsty plants.

It’s planting time for strawberries and this year AFC’s own Bonnie Plants is offering two interesting new varieties, Loran and Tristan. Loran does not produce many runners but instead forms a large, neat plant perfect for containers. It is an everbearing type producing heavily in the spring and early summer, and then lightly in the fall if the plants are kept healthy and robust. Tristan has a similar growth habit, but will surprise you with deep-pink flowers instead of the typical white one to make it as ornamental as it is edible! Like other strawberries, they are winter hardy and will actually produce more fruit the second year. When planting any strawberry, it is absolutely critical to make sure the crown (the center where the leaves originate) of the plant is not covered in soil. This may be the trickiest part of growing a strawberry! Take time to plant carefully so the crown is not buried to avoid rot. Some gardeners also mulch their plants growing in the ground with landscape fabric to keep the soil moist and the berries clean. This works better than black plastic because it allows water and air to pass through.

How’s This for a Topiary?

It is said that gardening is a mix of art and science. This beautiful topiary from a botanical garden in Encinitas, Calif., is certainly that. Made from a sphagnum-stuffed wire frame and planted with drought-tolerant succulents, it is a beautiful mix of horticulture, craft and garden art. With careful selection, the succulents provide the medium of various colors and textures for a dramatic effect. Use it as inspiration to create your own topiary, either large or small in your own garden this spring.

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