October 2008
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden

Chinese Abelia—A Shrub Worth Trying


Chinese abelia is a shrub worth trying.

Fall is the best time to plant many landscape shrubs and Chinese abelia (Abelia chinensis) is one you may want to try. It is deciduous, blooms profusely in summer with white fragrant blossoms, not bothered by pests, resists drought and attracts butterflies. If it has a downside it would be that you must give it lots of room. Use its size to your advantage as big shrubs planted in mass can stabilize areas prone to erosion or they can create a large, low maintenance shrub bed. The key is to plant Chinese abelia where you can leave it alone to send up its arching stems that grow six to eight feet tall and as equally wide. A swath of these shrubs sweeping across the landscape is a sight to behold in summer with they are covered with clusters of tiny white flowers abuzz with butterflies. They continue blooming through summer as long as there is new growth. The pretty blooms later turn light green and parchment-like—great for creating line in cut arrangements for church and other places of large scale.

Give Chinese abelia full sun. Once established it will weather most dry periods just fine. However, it can’t tolerate soggy soil, so be sure the spot drains well. I killed one that sat in a pot all winter without draining. Fertilize newly planted shrubs the first two or three springs to encourage growth to full size. After that, Chinese abelia will hold its own. If it should ever need pruning, take it back to near the ground—like a rose. Never trim it like a hedge or you will ruin its graceful form. If you want a hedge, plant boxwood, boxleaf euonymus or other small-leafed or needle-leafed evergreen that takes well to trimming. Chinese abelia is related to the more common glossy abelia (Abelia grandiflora), but it is not the same plant.

Take stock of your summer vegetable garden now that most of the harvest is over.


Last Pass Before Frost

Take stock of the summer vegetable garden to make notes of what did and did not work this year. Write it down. That way you won’t have to rely on memory for your favorite varieties, which pest-control strategies worked or any supplies you need to get–like more tomato cages – before next season. Haul your wheelbarrow out for the last harvest because it’s always more than you think.

Painted Window Screens


Old window screens make a unique canvas for artist Linsey Healey.

Birmingham artist, Linsey Healey, uses old window screens as a canvas for painting whimsical pictures of bugs, birds, frogs and other creatures. What a great idea for giving a second life to an old item and to decorating exterior walls facing your patio or garden. Lindsey sells her paintings at Sweet Peas Garden Shop in Birmingham, yet the idea is adaptable to anyone with a penchant for art. Got any old window screens?

Cool Weather Fragrance

One the great things about being outside is literally smelling the flowers. There are several great plants that bloom between now and next spring you may want to add to your landscape near the spot where you sit outside or near a window you open on nice autumn and winter days. Woody landscape plants with fragrance include tea olive (Osmanthus species) and Armand clematis (Clematis armandii). In South Alabama, you can add loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) to the list. Annual flowers include dianthus, certain pansies and petunias (sniff before you buy), sweet alyssum, sweet peas and stock; the farther south you live in Alabama, the more likely these annuals are to bloom in winter and very early spring.

The new snapdragon hybrids last longer than those of childhood memories.


Snapdragons Get Better and Better

The snapdragon blossom of childhood memory that snaps its jaw when you pull down the lower half of the flower is still around. However, today’s much improved snapdragon hybrids are much more likely to make it through winter and longer into spring and even early summer than plants of the past. Choose from tall varieties like Rocket for cutting or medium height varieties for beds and flowerpots. There are even trailing varieties for hanging baskets, window boxes and containers. If you haven’t grown snaps in a while, now is a good time to plant them for a show next spring. You’ll be surprised how long they last. Plant them with a little slow-release fertilizer worked into the soil. Pinch the top of bedding varieties to encourage branching and fuller plants.

Moth Orchid

Last year I wrote about Phaleonopsis, or moth orchid, the best and most popular orchid for the house. If yours is blooming now, or if you buy one in bloom now, you can encourage it to bloom again by cutting just below the last flower but right above the next node on the flower stem. If you cut the stem off at the base, you may get yet another spike from the base anytime from now through May. They need bright light to come in to bloom and also love bathrooms because of high humidity. When the plants are in bloom, move them out of the light. Often the flowers last 3 months or longer.

The most important time to fertilize is in late fall so it will come into bloom again in January. Next spring take it outside to rest, until you bring it indoors in the fall after it’s been exposed to temperatures no lower than the 50s.

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