July 2011
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Update on Invasive Species

Bradford pear started out as a charming landscape tree. Today it is known as a hazard for limbs breaking, but, even worse, it’s seeding in the wild. The seedlings are awfully thorny, too. Miscanthus sinensis, an ornamental grass, is another ornamental starting to spread in neighboring states. Both of these plants, still sold by the landscape industry, threaten to become serious pests. Perhaps the best known invasive is privet which also started out as an ornamental. To bring yourself up-to-date on which species to avoid planting or eliminate from your property, take a look at A Field Guide for Identification of Invasive Plants in Southern Forests, which you can read online at http://wiki.bugwood.org/Archive:IPSF. You may also keep up through the Alabama Invasive Plant Council at http://www.se-eppc.org/alabama/. Invasives choke out native growth and cost a lot of money to fight. Stay on top of the latest threats to avoid another privet or kudzu!


Above, Syrphid fly larvae (Photo courtesy of Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org). Right, adult syrphid fly (Photo by Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org)



Syrphid Flies Fight Garden Pests

Sometimes called hover flies because hover over flowers, syrphid flies look like yellow jackets or other stinging pests, but they are harmless to humans. In fact, many species help out in the garden by laying eggs on leaves that hatch into maggot-like green larvae that eat aphids and other pests. You can distinguish them from stinging pests because they do not have the typical threadlike waist of a wasp, and often their eyes are bigger and more prominent, like those of a housefly, and they have only two wings, instead of four.

Drip Saves Water and Time


Drip-watering systems can pay for themselves in saved time and water.

Drip-watering systems, especially for pots, are getting more economical. They can pay for them-selves in saved time and water. Dripworks, a mail order source, now sells a basic line for about $38 and a container add-on kit that handles 20 pots for $34. So for $72 plus shipping you can set your containers on a drip system. Add a timer and go on vacation without worrying about your pots! You can find these and more at www.dripworksusa.com.

Prune Tomatoes for Better Disease Control

The leaves of caged tomatoes can get a bit crowded as the plants grow through summer. This leads to more problems with leaf diseases. The leaves near the ground or to the interior of the cage are usually the first to turn yellow or blighted. Often the ground is the source of disease spores. Unless you have dozens of plants, it may pay to lay clean mulch around plants and remove lower leaves that catch soil splashing up in a rain. The best time to do this is early in the season as plants begin to grow, but it is not too late. Also prune fruitless suckers out from center of the cage to open up the plant and help air circulation; this helps leaves to dry out quickly after rain or dew. A little copper, Daconil spray, will help keep down many foliage diseases and lengthen the harvest of any indeterminate varieties. It’s easy to let tomatoes go once you’ve gotten a number of harvests, but, if you give them just a little attention now, many plants will continue bearing through fall. Fertilize again if you did not prepare the soil to provide nutrients for the entire season. Watch for hornworms, too. They can strip whole branches overnight.

In creating a foliage plant combo, include “a thriller, a filler and a spiller.”


Try a Foliage Plant Combo

Annuals and outdoor plants aren’t the only options for combining in pots. Houseplant combos add sparkle to a room or shaded porch. You can mix a variety of leaf sizes, shapes and colors in a pot, combining them just as you would annuals and typical outdoor flowers. The rule for houseplants, like outdoor combos, is "a thriller, a filler and a spiller." These are typically found in the tropical foliage section of your favorite garden center. Because many of these tropicals are native to jungles, they like shade.

More Pole Beans


  ZZ plant is an extremely durable houseplant, if you don’t over water.

Plant a second crop of pole beans for fall harvest. Kentucky Wonder, an all-time favorite, bears in about two months, so you can pick through September and October, and even into November in South Alabama. Soak the seeds overnight to hasten sprouting and water the seedbed daily because of the heat. Be on the lookout for Mexican bean beetles, too, especially on the young plants.

ZZ Plant - Not Plastic, But Almost

The name alone is funky enough to never forget, but after growing this houseplant, you’ll always recall its durability, too. If you wish for plastic, but wouldn’t dare, try ZZ plant, Zamioculcas zamiifolia. The stiff succulent leaves are tolerant of indoor conditions including low humidity from air conditioning and heat. Just don’t over water.

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