April 2014
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

  New tumbling tomatoes such as Cherry Falls and Tumbling Tom are novel items to try in containers and baskets.

TomatoesThat Tumble

Breeders have been working on a whole new group of tomatoes made for hanging baskets and spilling over the edge of containers. With names like Tumbling Tom and Cherry Falls, these tomatoes will be easy to recognize. Try some of these pretty cherry tomatoes to add a different twist to containers around your garden. They are spectacular in a large urn or planter. You can mix them with a few flowers or fill the entire vessel pot with just the plant. They won’t be your staple source of cherry tomatoes, but are a fun novelty and a way to add some extra tomato bites in unexpected places.

Easter Liliesfor the Garden

On the day after Easter, florists, grocery stores and garden centers that carry Easter lilies often have out-of-date extras to sell at a markdown. These lilies can be planted in the garden and left to grow into their natural cycle of blooming next year. Plant them at the same depth they are growing in the container (like most transplants). Fertilize with bulb booster and water as you would any other new planting. When the top dies down in the fall, cut the browned tops back just like other lilies. In spring, the new foliage will come up and send up a new bloom in early summer. They won’t bloom in time for Easter, but you’ll have nice, fragrant white summer lilies for years to come.


Every April, the clematis begin blooming on lampposts, fences and trellises throughout the state. Starting clematis vines from crowns sold in tiny little plastic packages sold in late winter and early spring can be tricky because they are so delicate. Now that they are beginning to bloom, look for potted clematis vines with a well-developed root system and full tops you can just transplant to the garden. When the plants are in bloom, you can also choose the color you like the best. Clematis plants like their roots to be kept cool, so mulch the roots or plant them where they can grow under a large stone or other cool item. They also need excellent drainage. Don’t plant in a place that might puddle.

Waiting Out Cold Damage

Did the cycads in your garden turn brown this winter? Did your rosemary freeze back? Are there brown tips on limbs of shrubs? What else looks fried? This is the month when new growth begins and you will see how much damage was really done. You can cut away obvious browned, dead places from plants in question, but some that were killed to the ground may still be alive at the roots and will sprout back in time. For those you will have to wait a little longer. One winter we lost an old camellia to the ground. Because it has such an old, well-established root system, the plant came back quickly from the base and is now up to the eaves of the house. Give heat-loving plants such as lantana until the end of May; woody shrubs killed back to the ground may not show signs of life until sometime this summer. Be patient before digging up plants to instantly replace them. Signs of permanent damage to perennials are usually a mushy plant crown and roots that easily give way if you dig or pull. You can check woody plants by scraping away a spot of brown bark with your fingernail or the edge of a pocket knife to look for a very thin bit of green cambium (the living layer) underneath. Dead wood does not have green cambium and may be dry and brittle, too. Check various places looking for signs of life, especially toward the base of the plant.

This charming bird condominium doubles as a garden ornament.  

Bird Condos

This group of stylish birdhouses might inspire you to do something similar in your garden. These have a distinctive French "architectural" style because they are in Quebec, but the same idea can be adapted to any assortment of birdhouses. This base is made of metal, but a wooden post with various length hooks can be used to hang multiple houses in a similar fashion.

Lawns Are Greening Up

Warm-season grasses such as centipede, zoysia, St. Augustine and Bermuda are breaking their dormancy and turning green. This is a signal to fertilize for spring. Don’t over fertilize your lawn. Usually feeding in spring and summer is enough, unless you are maintaining a golf course-quality Bermuda lawn. Centipede doesn’t like much nitrogen and only needs feeding once a year. To turn yellow centipede green, apply chelated iron instead of more nitrogen, which can hurt the grass. Avoid feeding cool-season grasses such as fescue late in the spring. Summer is the season when they struggle and all they want is a little water. You can learn a lot more about the different needs of Alabama lawn grasses from the Alabama Cooperative Extension publications at http://www.aces.edu/home-garden/lawn-garden/home-lawns.php.

Perennial Color

This is a good month to shop for perennials as nurseries and garden centers generally have their largest selections. Try a few new varieties as well as choosing from the tried-and-true purple coneflower, stokesia, rudbeckia (black-eyed susan) and coreopsis for sunny spots. In shade, consider Lenten roses and wildflowers, hostas and ferns. Perennials are great because they live for years, so you only have to groom them and occasionally divide them, but there is no yearly replanting. Fill in with annuals such as the new heat-tolerant varieties of sweet alyssum.

Impatiens Troubles

If you don’t see as many impatiens for sale in garden centers this year, it’s because there is a disease that has been killing plants for the last few years and some growers have been hesitant to produce them. You may see more New Guinea impatiens, which are not susceptible to downy mildew diseases and makes a great substitute. Also, consider fibrous begonias, a fast-growing annual for the shade with plenty of colorful flowers.

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