August 2012
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Make Soaker Hoses Last

Are your soaker hoses exposed to the sun? If so, they won’t last as long as they could. Cover soaker hoses with a layer of straw, pine straw or bark mulch to block UV light deteriorating the rubber. This and a good cleaning at the end of the season will help your expensive soaker hoses last several seasons. At the end of the summer, you can wash them with a brush and dish detergent to help keep the pores open. A kiddy pool is a good vessel for this. (Kiddy pools must be second to duct tape for multiple uses!) To rinse, put an end cap on the hose and run water through it so it oozes to finish cleaning out dirt and debris. In winter, coil the hoses (no kinks) and store where they’re protected from freezes and sunlight.

Mosquito Donuts

If you have a small pond, garden water feature or other standing water in the yard breeding mosquitoes, you may want to consider Mosquito Dunks, commonly called "mosquito donuts" because of their shape. The little dunks contain a bacteria (Bacillus thuringiensis, bt) harmful to mosquitoes (not humans) that will keep them from emerging as adults from ponds and water features. Each one lasts about a month and treats about 100 square feet of water surface (no matter the depth). They float, or you can anchor them in place with a tie through the donut hole.

Dwarf Conifers

August seems an odd time to think about plants we think of as Northern winter evergreens, but I’ve got three conifers that have earned accolades. In 2008, I attended a garden writers’ conference in Oregon where I was gifted five little conifers in 4-inch pots. I potted them in small containers and proceeded to almost totally neglect them. Two eventually died, but this June I rescued three very pot bound survivors and moving the surprisingly healthy-looking plants to bigger containers to finally get the attention they deserve. Although only two still have tags — Shimpaku Juniper and Dwarf Korean Spruce. These plants sat in a pot with a soil volume of about a 16-ounce glass for nearly four years. At times they went weeks without any attention and shuffled around to various exposures in the landscape. To my amazement, they are still alive. The point is not these particular varieties, but there are many conifers being trialed and studies as a new group of evergreens for the South. You’ll be seeing more about them. When you do, pay attention; you may find some great new evergreens for your garden that range from miniature to tree-sized.

Mosquito Dunks are a good choice for small ponds or water features with standing water.



Dwarf conifers earn accolades for survival.

A basket of Boston or related types of ferns make quick fillers for pots in the shade.

Green and Easy

This time of year it may be tough to find a broad selection of big pots with pretty color for your garden, but you can always find a fern in the garden center greenhouse. If you’re in a pinch and need something for a special occasion, remember the greenhouse or consider small shrubs that can later be transplanted to the landscape.

Old Fashioned Pansy Ring

One of my favorite vases is an old fashioned pansy ring I bought at Callaway Gardens more than 20 years ago. Although it’s hard to find these at retail, you can find old ones online though sites like eBay. They offer a wonderful, classic way to enjoy all the little blooms from your annuals. Look for one that will be easy to clean inside.

An old fashioned pansy ring is a wonderful way to enjoy all the little blooms from your annuals.


Broadleaf Lady Palm is a semi-hardy plant that is great for shaded patios as well as indoors.

A Fall Vegetable Garden Will Surprise You

Most people consider summer tomatoes the heart of vegetable gardening. But if you’ve never tried a fall garden, you might like the cooler weather and fewer pests. Green leafy fall vegetables include lettuce types yielding many salads. Kale, collards, parsley and spinach — four of the most nutritious greens, can tolerate freezing weather. Cilantro is perfect in fall; it won’t go to seed. If you had a great summer garden, planting now will be easy. If not, planting now may be a leap of faith. Just try it. Give your plants good soil, full sun, water and nutrition. Let nature do the rest. If there is one season when the conditions are on your side, it is autumn.

Lady Palm

One of my favorite houseplants is a semi-hardy palm called Broadleaf Lady Palm (Rhapis exelsa). This palm, which grows outdoors in North Florida and protected places in South Alabama, is slightly tolerant of frost. It’s an elegant, slow-growing palm, so it might not be the lowest-priced houseplant, but with good care it lives for many years, actually making it a bargain. This is a great plant for shaded patios and to keep as a houseplant in the winter. The leaves are stiff and tolerant of dry air indoors. There are also dwarf forms that make good tabletop plants.

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