May 2013
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Use sunflowers to attract pollinators to the garden this year. You can report what you see at


Sunflower Project Backyard Bee Count

A new, citizen science project aims to learn more about bees and other pollinators in urban, suburban and rural areas by collecting data from gardeners in their yards, gardens, schools and parks. The online community counts the number and types of pollinators visiting plants, especially sunflowers. They recommend you plant Lemon Queen, a variety especially liked by bees. They have been gathering information on pollinators since 2008 and, thanks to thousands of observers, can determine where pollinator service is strong or weak compared to averages. Anyone can participate by recording how many pollinators visit flowers in their garden. If you need a suggestion on what to plant to attract bees, they offer this list: sunflowers (preferably Lemon Gem; beware of pollenless types), bee balm, cosmos, tickseed, phacelia and purple coneflower. For more information, visit

Summer Cover Crops

Did you know black-eyed peas are considered a cover crop, too? Because they pull nitrogen from the air and move it into the soil, a crop of "cowpeas," as agronomists might call them, give your garden a double yield. You get peas in the summer and nitrogen for the ground when the plants are finished. Compost them or work them into the ground. They are known to contain three to four percent nitrogen! That’s free fertilizer. Big Red Ripper is an heirloom recommended by N.C. State for its vigor and drought resistance, but just about any variety will be good for your garden.

So Many Gardenias

If you’re one of those folks who just can’t get enough of a gardenia, take note of all the different types that exist. Although the differences are subtle, you will find varieties with single and double blooms, and types differing in height and leaf size. Some are even useful as ground covers and in containers because they are low and spreading. White Gem and Kleims Hardy grow only one- to two-foot tall and have atypical single flowers. You may see more of these used like a ground cover in a foundation planting. If it weren’t for their fragrance, you might not immediately recognize them as gardenias.

Black-eyed peas are a great summer crop because they provide nutrients if tilled back into the soil, and you get peas!


Kleim’s Hardy Gardenia boasts very fragrant, single white flowers on a low-growing plant.

Then there is dwarf gardenia, Gardenia radicans, a low-spreading type that only gets about a foot tall, but two- to three-foot wide. To enjoy gardenias again in the fall, look for a variety named Chuck Hayes, which blooms in the summer, too. Mystery is the most common one that blooms heavily in spring and may send out a few blooms in summer. If you inherited a gardenia in an older landscape, this may be what you have. It can grow eight feet tall.

After gardenias bloom, fertilize them with an azalea fertilizer for the extra iron they need to help keep the foliage green. A sprinkle of Epsom salts helps, too.

Hiding Strawberries from the Birds

I saw an interesting tip on Pinterest that is supposed to help thwart birds in the strawberry patch. I haven’t tried it, but thought it was worth sharing with folks who like to try new tricks in the garden. The idea is to paint oval-shaped rocks to look like strawberries and lay them among the strawberry plants as the plants grow. Birds find that they don’t taste good, which conditions them; when the real berries appear, pecking is not a problem. If you try it, let us know how it works.

Moving Lenten Roses

Every year, hundreds of little seedlings appear under Lenten rose plants. Now is a good time to dig up those babies and give them to friends. Dig gently and keep the roots moist in their new home. We’ve found Lenten roses to be one of the few flowering evergreen perennials that truly thrive in the dry shade under trees. Because they are an evergreen, the planting is never bare. We cut away the old foliage each spring if we get around to it, but, if not, the new growth usually hides most of it anyway. This is a truly low-maintenance plant if you have a natural way (such as mowing) to avoid problems with seedlings appearing nearby.

Mulch in landscape beds keeps the bed looking uniform while helping the ground stay moist and weed free.


Mulch Updates

The Soil and Mulch Council, an industry group that sets quality standards, has some good tips for gardeners trying to figure out the differences between the many mulches sold. At first glance, mulches can seem the same, but they are not. Here are some helpful tips to distinguish among the different products. Know the source of colored mulches and bulk mulches containing a lot of raw wood. They can contain recycled wood products such as old pallets or even deck teardowns. When buying bulk mulches, ask the sources and look for pieces with sharp edges, a likely sign of old pallets or decks. For bagged products, look for certification by the Soil & Mulch Council. In our area, bark is a popular mulching material. In flower beds, I like to use very fine bark, often sold as "soil conditioner" because it is easy to sprinkle by the handful around the little plants. I also count on it as a way to continually add organic matter to the beds because it breaks down within the season. Around shrubs and permanent plantings, choose bark nuggets based on your aesthetic preference. The biggest bark nuggets last the longest in the landscape, but they don’t suppress weeds as well as smaller pieces do. Pine straw is another great option around landscape plants. It knits together to resist washing and, because of the waxy coating on the needles, fresh pine straw should last from spring through fall.

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