December 2008
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Live Christmas Tree

Have you ever bought a live Christmas tree to plant outside after the holidays but it did not live? If you’d like to try again, here are a few pointers. Live trees need specialized attention. Handle the tree gently by the root ball or container, not by the trunk. If a balled-and-burlaped root ball cracks, the tree probably won’t make it. You can also spray the tree with Wilt-Pruf, an antidesiccant to help keep the tree from loosing too much moisture while inside. Set the tree up in a cool spot away from a fireplace, heating vent or other heat source. Also avoid lights that give off much heat. Warmth breaks dormancy; then the tree will be injured when it is returned to the cold outside. Most importantly, don’t keep tree indoors more than a week. Go ahead and buy your tree to get a good selection, but let it rest outdoors in the shade until the week before Christmas. Keep it watered, of course. Take it out right after Christmas and set it in a shady spot out of the wind for a few days to acclimatize to the outdoors again. After planting, mulch the area around the roots.


Invite Cardinals This Winter

An informal Audubon Society survey once asked some visiting Brits which of our birds they liked best. The pretty red cardinal was included in their answer (blue jay was another). A bright spot in winter and one of the first birds to sing in the morning, cardinals are easy to attract to your feeders and garden for a bright spot in the winter. They like a stationary feeder big enough to give them space to perch. Make it at least four feet tall. The conical shape of a cardinal’s beak is made for cracking seeds. Feed them with safflower, sunflower seeds, cracked corn and suet mixes with seeds. They also like raisins. Of course, they will appreciate water and lots of bushy shelter in thickets, forest edges and large dense screens or hedges. Because cardinals choose a mate for life, you may see the same birds in your garden for several years if you make it comfy for them to stick around.


Camellias Galore

For the gardener who has everything, consider giving a camellia, the Alabama State Flower, as a Christmas gift. Nurseries usually get their stock of camellias in the fall as the season of bloom begins. Did you know The American Camellia Society is headquartered at Fort Valley, Georgia, about 100 miles east of Auburn? Their nine-acre garden with over 1,000 varieties is a great place to visit between now and early spring to see more camellias than you can imagine as they sequence through bloom. By choosing carefully, gardeners in South Alabama can enjoy camellias in bloom each month from November through March. You can learn a lot about camellias and see pictures of many varieties at the society’s website: It’s a good place to see a picture if you are thinking about buying one not yet in bloom.

Super Plants for Screening

Winter is a good time to plant a screen to block off a view or enclose a patio for shelter from the wind to make it more pleasant on a sunny winter day. You can plant a single species for a uniform screen or mix and match for contrasting textures and foliage colors. Great choices include Japanese anise or Florida anise, camellias, wax myrtle, osmanthus, Burford holly and arborvitae. For great winter fragrance, also consider tea olive, Osmanthus fragrans. In South Alabama add banana shrub, gardenia and pittosporum to the list. Avoid plants proven to be invasive like Chinese privet. Other suspects that can reseed include eleagnus, mahonia, Japanese barbery and nandina.

Which Pansy is Your Favorite?

There is still time to plant pansies for winter and early spring blooms. Members of the pansy family include pansy, viola and Johnny jump-up. An old favorite for winter bouquets is Majestic Giant, which has the biggest bloom of all at two to three inches in diameter. All pansies are great for cutting and putting into a short glass bottle or tiny vase. Violas, which are small, are perfect for containers where their smaller size is well in scale with pot culture. Mix them with lettuce, parsley and even cilantro for a pretty mix of winter salad greens and flowers you can eat! If grown organically, you can add pansy petals to your salads for color. Or top off a cupcake!

Fall planting gives pansies good time to grow. Use a starter solution of liquid fertilizer to boost pansies at planting. Once the soil starts cooling, both slow-release and organic fertilizers mixed into the ground are less active, so you will see the best results from liquid feeding.


An Inspiring Gate

As you walk up to the entrance of the Oregon Zoo in Portland, you can’t help but be mesmerized by the beautiful metal gates themed with many different animal species in the zoo’s collections. The fish is a salmon, of course. The sculptor is Wayne Chabre. I wanted to share these with you in case anyone out there who is a metals artist might gain inspiration. I suppose such beautiful gates could be made from wood, too.

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