May 2011
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Get a big show from a pack of sunflower seeds.


Try Sunflowers

Get a big show from a $2 pack of branching sunflowers seeds. These become four to six-foot tall plants that keep blooming as long as you keep cutting the flowers. Use the cheerful flowers inside and for arrangements on your picnic table. Look for seed packets indicating branching or cutting-type sunflowers, not to be confused with the ones that make one giant flower at the top, which are grown for their big seeds. You’ll be amazed at the beautiful colors—yellow, orange, mahogany, white and combinations of these in one flower. These are super easy to grow. Just poke the seeds in soft ground and keep them watered. At the end of the season, collect seeds to start a new planting next year.

Plant Tomatoes Deep

Remember to set your tomato transplants really deep. The buried stem makes roots that will make the plant stronger and better able to make it through summer. Bury about two-thirds of the plant. You can cut away the lower leaves if you wish, but it is not necessary. When starting Bonnie plants in peat pots, tear away the bottom part of the pot so some roots come into direct contact with the soil. Prepare the ground well. I like to add organic nutrients like kelp meal, which I get mail-order from the West Coast, along with cottonseed meal, which is easier to find at your local Quality Co-op. These provide some nitrogen and lots of micronutrients without adding chemical fertilizer salts, which don’t encourage microbes and other soil flora. I also follow up with Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food, which is fantastic stuff. It is made from soybean seed extract and just includes lots of enzymes and other things encouraging great growth of the roots and the top while also encouraging the soil flora.

Still Time for Seeded Flowers

Now is a good time to also start other flowers from seed and plant them where they can sow themselves year after year. Zinnia, cleome, tickseed, tithonia (Mexican sunflower), heirloom cockscomb, non-hybrid marigolds and cosmos are a few that like to come back on their own. They’ll start blooming in a couple of months and be there for you to cut and bring indoors until frost. Toward the end of the season, be sure to leave some in the garden to drop seeds to start the bed all over next year.

Tomatoes Resistant to Spotted Wilt Virus

This virus has been on the rampage across the Southeast in recent years and there isn’t much one can do about it once plants are infected. Fortunately, breeders have been working to develop resistant varieties. These include Healthkick, Talladega, BHN 640, and Amelia. If you wonder what this disease looks like, a good spot for pictures is the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s online brochure showing various wilt diseases of tomatoes. You can access it at


Plectranthus (Plectranthus argentatus)

A Touch of Silver

If you are looking for a quick way to brighten your pots with something matching everything, try silver plants like curry, Plectranthus (Plectranthus argentatus) and Dusty Miller. They are tolerant to drought and hold up fairly well in humid weather. Plectranthus likes some shade, too, making it a great plant to brighten spots under trees. Dusty Miller needs full sun. Silver is a great neutral that will mix with just about any colors you have in the garden. Try a few branches of silver in a vase, too.

Outdoors, but away from direct sunlight, is the perfect place to enjoy your Boston fern.


Try Boston Ferns Outdoors

Boston fern is sold everywhere because it is fast-growing and beautiful, but it can be a tricky houseplant. Indoors, it demands you get out the broom almost daily to sweep up the fronds as they shed for weeks after bringing the plant in. The plant has come from a greenhouse, which is much brighter than the inside of your house, so it will inevitably drop leaflets as it adapts to lower light levels and drier air. However, Boston fern is a great outdoor plant for urns and containers. Plant it in a large enough container so the roots can stay moist during hot weather. A porch or stoop where the plant is protected from direct sunlight is perfect.

Trim Wave Petunias


Paint and display an old window rather than discarding it when no longer useful.

Those pretty wave petunias planted earlier this spring can reach farther than you intended. If so, simply snip them back to the desired length and feed with liquid fertilizer. Refresh hanging baskets looking a little flat by pruning a few of the long stems all the way back to near the basket rim. Wave petunias are more heat tolerant than many other types, but even they may pause as the nights start getting warmer in June. Keep them healthy and they will be beautiful in the fall when the weather cools again.

Old Window Brightens Fence

Here is a nice idea I saw at CASA Community Garden in Huntsville, where volunteers grow vegetables for the aging and homebound. An old window destined for the landfill is painted and hung on a plain board fence. What a nice way to decorate a garden and give a discard longer usefulness.

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