December 2010
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Spray Fruit Trees Now

This time of year you may be thinking about apple and peach pies instead of trees, but now is the time to make things easier on yourself in the orchard come spring. A thorough spray of dormant oil controls insects like aphids, thrips and mites overwintering in the cracks of bark on trees. They are sure to start sucking life from the leaves as soon as weather permits in spring.

Lime sulfur spray controls diseases like fire blight and peach leaf curl, caused by fungus. You can combine the two sprays to make applying easier. Spray now, again after the New Year and again around Valentine’s Day, before the buds begin to open.

If your trees had lots of disease last year, you may also apply a copper spray, but not at the same time. Follow the directions on the label, depending on which type of copper spray you use, the directions may vary. Ask at your local Quality Co-op if you are not sure.

Persimmons Are Popular Again


My father had a big Japanese persimmon tree and I looked forward to the soft, pudding-like sweet fruit. One time I bit into a fruit before it softened, which caused an awful pucker in my mouth. This type of fruit is called astringent. There are also "non-astringent" seedless varieties that may be sliced and eaten while still crunchy.

Today gourmets are discovering persimmons. If you have room in your garden, try a couple of the big Japanese varieties. The trees will need about a 20-foot circle. One persimmon tree will yield 150 pounds of fruit or more. This is too much to eat at one time, but it makes great bread! Petals From the Past in Jemison offers a good selection of persimmon trees.


Sculptural Succulents

A recent trip to the desert landscape of Phoenix brought to my attention the sculptural beauty of many drought-tolerant plants. There are lots of semi-evergreen perennial succulent plants that do well here in containers, on rock walls and other places where it gets hot and dry in the summer.

In our climate, the thing threatening these plants is too much moisture. Plant them in containers with a little sand mixed into the potting soil. If they are in the ground, make sure the spot drains quickly after a rain. Some of the more popular small types are dunce cap, sedums, and hens and chicks.

Freeze Dried Geraniums? Almost!

Try holding on to your favorite geraniums through winter by lifting them out of their pots, knocking the soil from their roots and storing the bare plant in a cool, dry basement through winter. Put the plant in a mesh citrus bag and hang it so it gets air circulation.

In spring, cut the stems back to four to six inches tall and plant again. Begin watering and fertilizing. If the plants were healthy, new shoots should appear from the old stems in two or three weeks.

Berry Good Clean Up

Remove dead stems from blackberries and raspberries if you haven’t already done so. They provide a place for diseases to overwinter that will attack healthy, new growth in the spring. Plus, leaving the dead thorny plants makes the berries harder to pick next year.


Compost Tumbler Is a Nice Gift

If you know a gardener who composts kitchen scraps to put back into the garden as a fertilizer and soil amendment, a nice tumbler might make a good Christmas gift. Tumblers come in a variety of sizes and prices. Just look for one that is easy to turn and empty.

One advantage of a good tumbler is it keeps the critters out of the refuse. Mother Earth News website has a nice review on various types; I found the article by typing in "ranking compost tumblers" in Google search.

Working With Landscape Fabric

Landscape fabric, which handles like a piece of felt, makes it easier to keep weeds out between permanent plantings like a shrub bed. Winter is a good time to put it down, but make sure you lay it down right.

Kill all grass or weeds in the area first. Consider a pre-emergent herbicide like Treflan, too, in beds that have been weedy in the past. Sprinkle it in the bed before you lay down the fabric.

Once the fabric is down, it acts as a barrier to new weeds. Cover the fabric with organic mulch like bark. The bigger the bark pieces, the longer they last.


Good from Bad

Bittersweet vine on a property is a pest, but the fruiting vine does make a beautiful wreath for the holidays. You can cut pieces of the vine to add to an existing wreath or wrap lengths of fruiting vine into a wreath all its own. You may also make woody vine wreaths from heavier vines like wild muscadine. To bend them without breaking, soak the cut lengths of vines overnight. Cut as long a length as you can reach and handle; six or seven feet is a good working size.

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