December 2013
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Cattle panels held together with zip ties and anchored to the ground create wonderful arches for cascading vegetables, flowers and more. This one was spotted in P. Allen Smith’s garden. How would you like to have a tunnel of tomatoes next summer?  

 A Tomato Tunnel

This garden arch was spotted at the Moss Mountain Farm of P. Allen Smith in Roland, Ark. Last summer it held a cascade of cherry tomatoes. The vines planted at the base of the arch grew up and over to create a green tunnel and provided easy pickings of the cherry tomatoes dangling down. In addition to cherry tomato vines, plants that would climb it well include pole beans, sugar snap peas and hyacinth bean for harvest, and morning glory and cypress vine for beauty. Winter is the time of year to put these kinds of dream projects on your list. I thought I’d share it before Christmas in case you know someone who would love to have a tunnel of tomatoes next summer! The 16-foot cattle panels are held together with zip ties and anchored to the ground with rebar.

Amaryllis Can Go from Tabletop to Flower Bed

Many of the amaryllis sold for the holidays and in January, either in boxes or already potted, will often also grow in a protected location in your garden. After your amaryllis blooms indoors this winter, keep it in a bright place and water to keep it from drying out. In the spring, you can transplant it to a bright spot in the garden. Next spring it may surprise you with another big bloom. Plant the bulb in a spot that gets at least four hours of sun daily. The biggest threat to these bulbs is rot, so be sure the soil drains well. Ideally, the bulb is planted so the neck is above ground to help avoid rot, but that exposes the bulb to more cold than it can bear in the winter. So plant the bulb’s neck an inch or two below ground to protect it from freezing weather. These are hybrid amaryllis that are not as hardy as the old-fashioned, red, perennial type, but nevertheless worth a try in the garden. The holiday amaryllis I have transplanted to the garden have usually bloomed for a few springs, making it worth the time to dig the hole. You can just tuck them into a flower bed where they will be noticed when in bloom, but the foliage can be anonymous.

  Blueberry bushes might be an idea for the gardener on your Christmas list. The trick is to make sure there are two varieties that bloom at the same time for cross-pollination.

A Blue Christmas

Is there a gardener on your Christmas list who might enjoy a few blueberry bushes? If they can grow azaleas, they can grow blueberries. The plants are in the same family - they like acid soil and have delicate thin roots needing some TLC to start, but become more adaptable as they age. More folks are making a place for blueberries in any size garden, large or small. The plants are attractive and fit well into most any landscape setting making a nice background for flowers and herbs. And they can live for decades with a little care. Look for blueberry plants in nurseries now and through winter, or wrap up a gift certificate along with some peat moss and an offer of your labor for planting anytime between now and February. The trick to blueberries is making sure the garden contains two varieties for cross-pollination that bloom at the same time. You can check with your county Extension office for an updated list of varieties in your area as bloom times and variety recommendation can vary from the northern part to southern part of the state. Ideally you want a berry that won’t bloom so early that risks losing the blooms to a late freeze. Some of the earlier varieties are Climax, Brightwell, Price and Vernon. Later ones include Tifblue, Powderblue, Onslow and Yadkin.

Southern Gardening Symposium is Soon

Nurse your cabin fever with a couple of days of camaraderie with other gardeners at the 28th Annual Southern Gardening Symposium at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga. The event begins with a large reception on Friday night and continues though Saturday and early Sunday with presentations on a wide variety of subjects by garden authors, designers and others steeped in gardening. You may register now for the event which takes place January 24-26. The symposium also offers a scholarship to one horticulture student and professor. You can find out more at

Certification Lets You Know What You Are Buying

Do you know what is in a bag of mulch or soil that you buy for your garden beds? Products contain bark, composted forest products and other materials, but it’s hard to know a good product from a bad one (which could contain any type of ground wood such as decks and treated lumber). To help ensure satisfaction and safety, the National Mulch and Soil Council developed a voluntary program for producers to submit to testing and standards for uniform quality. Look for a list of certified brands and learn more about the standards for mulch and potting soil at

The small blank spaces between stepping stones are great spots for succulents that thrive in shallow, dry environments. Hens and chicks is probably the best known.  

Between a Rock and a Rock

The little blank spaces of soil between stepping stones or stacked rock walls are great spots for certain succulents that thrive in the shallow soil and dry environment. Hens and chicks may be the best known, but the nursery industry has introduced many others that trail or clump, have pretty blooms and vary in leaf color from lime green to red to gray. These are often also good for the border around a stone path, in containers, and little dry spots here and there (but not as a mass ground cover). Look for cold-hardy, perennial succulents in your garden center, making sure to check the label or ask a knowledgeable person. There are many tropical succulents sold in greenhouses as houseplants, but these are not generally hardy enough to make it through our winters in the landscape. Sedum species (also called stonecrop) include a large number of hardy perennial types.

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