November 2013
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

New App Links to Plant Pros Help

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System has partnered with seven other land grant universities to create an easy system for farmers, gardeners, landscapers and others serious about their plants to submit problems for diagnosis. The free app makes it easy to send digital photo samples of issues in the garden or field to an Auburn University diagnostic lab for diagnosis or identification. You can complete each form by responding to simple, customized questions. After entering a description of the problem and attaching corresponding photos, the sample submission is sent to the selected diagnostic laboratory. There is a fee for each submission. You may download the app for free from the iTunes store by searching Plant Diagnostic Submission App.

Pop-Up Winter Plant Storage

Camping technology has made its way into the garden by providing new pop-up greenhouses that literally assemble as easily as a tent. These provide a quick and affordable way to overwinter tender plants and start seeds early in the spring. The little greenhouses come in sizes as small as 3 x 3 to cover an individual plant, or as large as walk-in houses with a 5- or 6-foot height. We just ordered our second one measuring 8 x 10 feet. After years, plastic on the first one (cost about $120) finally began to tear, so we discarded it last spring. However, we are repurposing the snap-apart pieces of the frame as stakes in the garden, so it is still giving. It was well worth the cost. If you don’t want or have room for a permanent greenhouse, a greenhouse like this offers a good solution. An Internet search for pop-up greenhouses will bring up enough results to keep you busy browsing for a while. Look for ones with UV-resistant, ripstop plastic for maximum life. Storing the disassembled greenhouse out of the sun and weather through the summer will lengthen its life, too.

A Christmas cactus with a bright pink flower blooming over the holidays. (Credit: VallarieE, iStock)  

Is Your Christmas Cactus Outside?

We often refer to Christmas cactus, Thanksgiving cactus and Easter cactus interchangeably because it is hard to tell them apart. And to make matters more confusing, Thanksgiving cacti are often sold at Christmas, too. Christmas cactus has flattened leaves with rounded teeth on the margins. Thanksgiving cactus has pointed teeth. Easter cactus has pointed teeth with fibrous hairs in the leaf joints. Under normal conditions each will bloom close to its holiday, but the nursery trade can force these into bloom anytime by adjusting growing conditions such as length of day in a greenhouse, which explains why you may see them sold a little out of synch with the season. However, once you have these at home, they should bloom at the normal time in subsequent years.

These long-lived cacti are great patio plants and houseplants. They don’t need a lot of watering or care and have been known to live for decades. It is important to know they are short-day plants, which means they need nights of at least 14 hours long and daylight of only 8-10 hours for six weeks to initiate bloom. Outdoor lighting or room lights can disrupt the required dark period. If your plant is indoors under a lamp in a 72 degree room all year, chances are you aren’t seeing it bloom again. In addition, these cacti need cool weather (flowers won’t form when nights are above 68 degrees). So, if you keep your plant outside (in the shade) but bring it in when frost threatens, you should see it set little flower buds in a few weeks. The natural cycle of long nights and cool temperatures of fall should bring it into bloom. Just be sure to move it to a dark spot indoors on nights when frost threatens.

Making Leaf Litter

Each fall I get ambitious about raking, chopping and storing leaves to use in the garden throughout the year. We like to store a few bags of chopped leaves, or leaf litter, to add to our compost in the summer, a time when ingredients are mostly fresh green items from the harvest so there is not much dry brown material available. Chopped leaves are also great mulch for the vegetable garden. If you like what leaves can do for your garden, take a few hours to create a separate leaf heap (or bagged stash) in addition to the normal adding of leaves to your compost.

  Plant clover in the bare spots of the garden in winter. It will add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil.

Cover Crop, Even in a Small Garden

Improving the soil is a given in gardening for we’ve all learned that a vegetable garden is generally only as good as the soil where it grows. With that in mind, we plant clover in bare spots of the garden for winter. The clover adds nitrogen and organic matter to the soil. It’s not too late to sprinkle a few clover seeds in your garden now. The plants sprout this fall and grow on any mild days between now and spring. We cut our clover way back to the ground after it blooms and dig planting holes through it as needed. By the end of spring, most of the clover has been turned into the soil.

Rosemary Christmas Trees

This is a good time to of year to buy rosemary that doubles as a Christmas tree for container decoration. Pots of rosemary trimmed into Christmas tree shapes make nice outdoor decoration you can leave in place or move to the ground in the spring. If you use these indoors, limit their visit to under a week, or the plants may not transplant to the garden well.

Extra pots have been repurposed here to create a homemade birdbath.  

A Homemade Birdbath

As you can see, this birdbath is cleverly fashioned from clay pots simply stacked and nested in a logical fashion so they fit. This idea, observed on a garden tour, offers a good way to repurpose extra pots, or even slightly cracked ones if they can be held together with a wire wrap. The upside down pots nest well enough to provide a stable base for the upper bowl. There is also a little silicone involved in this project to plug the drainage hole in the bowl. And, there’s a little paint, too, whose use might even open up a little shelf space in your garage.


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