Visit Gardens for Almost Free
Help horticulture and yourself if you plan to travel to gardens this summer. A membership to the American Horticultural Society entitles you to free admission at 270 public gardens throughout the U.S. The list includes some of the nation’s best known like the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, the Chicago Botanic Garden, the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis and, a much closer one, the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Most of the public gardens in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida also reciprocate. Find out more about membership at www.ahs.org and also a list of participating gardens. Another way to do this is to buy a membership at a local garden that also reciprocates. For example, if you are a member of the Huntsville, Birmingham, Mobile or Anniston Botanic Gardens, you also get free entry to many other gardens across the country. What a win/win! Support your local garden and save the entry fees at many gardens where you travel.
Warm-Weather Garden Reminders
As summer cranks up, here are some helpful tips.
• Water new plants regularly and deeply. Put them on a drip system and a timer to save time and water, especially to protect newly-set trees and shrubs.
• Maintain a layer of mulch over the roots of trees, shrubs, perennials and bedding plants to keep the soil cool and moist.
• Give annuals a mid-season fertilization. Because our growing season is so long, your plants will need it.
• If you enjoy morning coffee in the garden, this is the perfect time to pinch or cut browning flowers from petunias, roses and many other early-summer annuals.
• Torenia and Mexican heather would rather be sheared back in July for an all-new spurt of foliage.
If you run across an agapanthus in the garden center, don’t pass it by. This somewhat tender perennial offers beautiful shades of blue to purple-blue blooms in the heat of summer. Long well known to Floridians, agapanthus is working its way north as more varieties are bred and marketed to be hardy into zone 7. Agapanthus flowers are borne on tall scapes (a tall stalk like an amaryllis). They vary in size from dwarfs of 12 inches to taller plants of 3 feet or more in height. Native to South Africa, these plants are also called Lily of the Nile and African Lily, but they are not a lily at all. They are more closely related to amaryllis. Most are perennial in Alabama, but check the tags carefully before you buy. Agapanthus are great pot plants, where you can enjoy their pretty, strap-like foliage and blue blooms on a patio in light shade – especially from afternoon sun. They also work well in a flowerbed.
Easy from Seed for Fall
Sometimes it is hard to look ahead to fall when the weather is hot, but summer is a good time to consider seeding flowers for fall like marigolds, zinnias, cosmos and cleome. They come up quickly and begin to flower late, so give your garden a fresh, late-summer snap that continues into fall. You can seed from now through early-August for fall blooms.
Don’t Kill Them with Kindness
It’s easy to drown camellias, gardenias and boxwoods, three very popular landscape items. Sometimes they drown because of poorly-drained soil, but often it is just from overwatering. Be careful not to water too much. Often this happens in new landscapes with automatic sprinklers set to come on at a given time without sensitivity to rain.
Aloe and Other Succulents
Aloe and other succulents combine well in pots and require little care. Pot them in a cactus mix or lighten bagged potting soil with at least half sand. Cactus roots need to dry out between waterings. It is hard to rewet soil containing a lot of peat moss, so if your mix your own, try to find a potting soil made from composted wood products (but not peat moss) to mix with the sand.
Drip Saves Time
Every gardener I know who has gone to the trouble to set up their containers on a drip system is glad they did it. Not only does it save time, but it saves water, too. Drip is a great way to keep containers looking fresh in the heat of summer without the need to water daily. A drip system is especially nice when you’re away. It requires running tubes to your pots from a nearby spigot. Look for drip kits sold with the tubing and emitters or fashion your own from the parts sold individually. If you can’t find them at a local garden center, try online sources like www.dripirrigation.com or www.dripdepot.com.
Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of The Southern Garderner's Book of Lists and former Garden Editor of Southern Living Magazine.