Bones of the Garden
In January, when the garden is bare is a good time to look for holes in your landscape where some winter evergreens might bring it to life. Sometimes designers refer to these as the "bones of the garden," along with other structures anchoring it through winter. Think about using plants that are also nice for cut foliage arrangements like leucothoe and magnolia. Plants with berries, like hollies, are also a good idea. In North Alabama, get the spots ready for spring planting by digging up turf and preparing the ground as the weather allows. It’s best to wait until spring to plant most evergreens so the foliage isn’t subjected to cold and drying winds before the plants can take root.
A Great Camellia Resource
Do you like camellias? Our state is blessed with some of the best camellia minds in the country, including the late Bob Green of Fairhope and Bobby Green, Jr., his son. January is a good time for armchair gardening and I recommend browsing the Green’s website, www.greennurseries.com, for a great tour of the camellia family. This includes an interesting history of antique, historical, heirloom and modern varieties. Look at the "wintergarden camellias" section for great descriptions and pictures of varieties you might just decide fill a need in your garden. Just reading the historical context of the many varieties is educational, even if you never plant a one.
We have enjoyed the porcelain-like blooms of Manoliaeflora in our garden for a number of years. You know a plant is important to you when you find yourself making sure it gets watered during a summer drought. For us, this is one of those.
Use Alcohol to Dwarf Paperwhites
One of the problems with forcing paperwhites into bloom indoors is they always flop over because of the low light and warm temperature in most houses. You can fix that with any rum, gin or other ethanol spirits left over from a holiday recipe. Mixed into the water, the alcohol will keep paperwhites from getting too tall. Or, you may use an ethanol-based rubbing alcohol. Cornell University horticulturists found a weak solution of ethanol alcohol added to the water stunts growth just enough to keep the stems short without hurting the plants. They suggest replacing the water in the paperwhite bowl with a solution of four to five percent ethanol as soon as the roots have grown and green leaf tips start to peep from the bulbs. How much you mix depends on the concentration of the alcohol you start with. If you use an 80-proof liquor, which is 40 percent alcohol, it will take about nine parts water to one part liquor. If you use 100 percent ethanol rubbing alcohol, it will take 19 parts water to one part alcohol. I wonder if anyone has tried this on amaryllis?
Rake and destroy any leaves and fruit debris still under fruit trees, especially those that were diseased last year. This is also the time to plant fruit trees. They will do best if planted while dormant to give the roots a chance to begin growing before the tops leaf out. Fruit trees need excellent drainage, so pick a high spot. Keep newly-planted trees well watered for the first two years until they are well established. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) publishes excellent fruit tree care guides including excellent guidelines for pruning. Look for these at your regional ACES office or online at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/ and search for fig, peach, persimmon or whatever you are planting.
Order Sweet Pea Seeds
Precious sweet pea flowers of mid-spring get their start from seed in late winter. There is a short window for planting so that plants can grow during the warm spells of late winter and cool days of spring. Once the weather gets hot, they won’t do much. So, if you like sweet peas on a fence or trellis, now is the time to buy seeds. Check your favorite garden center for seeds or put in your mail order. Plant in January in South Alabama and early February elsewhere.
If you did not get your daffodils, crocus, hyacinths or tulips in the ground in the fall, it is not too late if the bulbs are still firm and healthy. Do it early this month and they will still bloom, just possibly a little later.
Now is also a good time to begin planting hardy summer-blooming bulbs like lilies. Look for them to be arriving in garden centers this month. Because lilies grow tall they need staking, although not a heavy one. Sticks from fallen branches are pretty and work well. It’s a good idea to go ahead and place the stake beside the bulb at planting to avoid risk to the planting and roots later. Stakes about three feet tall are usually enough to keep the plants from flopping over in May when they are top heavy with blossoms. Lilies like rich soil, so be sure to add plenty of compost.
Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner’s Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.