August 2013
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

  Muhly grasses are one of several ornamental grasses with a good reputation for use in your garden.

A Cilantro Substitute for Summer

A few weeks ago I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about unusual plants and seeds gardeners are sourcing online. One that caught my attention is an herb called papalo (Porophyllum ruderale) that is supposed to have a cilantro-like taste. Unlike cilantro, it thrives in the summer heat, which is what lured me in. Native to Mexico, the upright plants grow about three feet tall and about 18 inches wide. The seed I ordered sprouted in a week, although thinly. The plants thrive in warm weather, so even though I can’t yet say how mine will turn out, I thought I’d share with folks who are missing their garden cilantro enough to spend a few dollars on a packet of seeds with shipping. If you search "papalo seeds," you will bring up several seed sources including some well-known ones such as Johnny’s Selected Seed and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. They say germination is naturally low and variable, so sow some extra.

Fall Vegetable Garden

The heat of August isn’t inviting, but it is the best time to start your fall garden from seed for crops such as mustard, carrots, radish, beets and even potatoes. Wait until the end of the month or early September to set out transplants of cauliflower and broccoli. If the weather stays hot, shade your leaf lettuce to keep it cool and prevent bolting in the heat. You can cover seeds with a board to keep them cool, just check under it daily and remove as soon as you see sprouts.

This bench graces a garden in the Philadelphia area, but with some woodworking skill and a few fallen limbs or cut trees, a similar piece might be found in your garden.  

Ornamental Grasses

Late summer and fall are prime times to enjoy ornamental grasses and shopping for them for your garden because now is when so many of them are in bloom. Although the grasses are graceful and beautiful for many months, it’s when they are in bloom that they catch the light of early morning or late afternoon to sell themselves to you even in a nursery pot. The good grasses are drought-tolerant, low-maintenance items easy to plant and forget about except for a once-yearly trim in the spring to remove old growth and clear the way for the new. However, beware that some such as river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and Pennisetum "Moudry" can reseed and become pests in your garden. Worse yet, they can spread into the wild. Miscanthus sinensis is also on the watch list of invasive plants in Alabama because it has become invasive in adjacent states. Others on the invasive list include Giant reed (Arundo donax) and Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica). Also known as cogongrass, Japanese Blood Grass is on the Alabama Invasive Plant Council’s list of worst offenders. On the other hand, you can enjoy the good grasses in your garden for their beauty and ease. Some that have a good reputation thus far are Pennisetum "Hameln," various cultivars of muhly grass (Muhlenbergia sp.) and needle grass (Stipa sp.). When in doubt, check with your local Extension office before committing and choose a good grass to enjoy worry-free.

Onions and Garlic

Now is the time to think about onions and garlic for fall planting. You can find onion sets and Bonnie bunch plants at your local Co-op or garden center in the fall. Fall and winter are excellent times to grow garlic in our area, too. You can start plants from garlic bought at the grocery store if sets aren’t available for sale locally.

A Simple Rain Gauge

Remember this simple little tool to help you know how much rain really fell in your garden. Do you need to water? I look at my rain gauge to see if we got the one to two inches my flowers and vegetables need to thrive in this heat. It’s also handy when I turn on the sprinkler!

Alabama Gardener

If you’re a gardener who enjoys classes, tours and get-togethers around garden or food topics, check out the Alabama Gardener magazine’s calendar of events at Listed events from around the state for August include items such as workshops on pollinators, moths or plant-animal interactions; a birthday party for Eddie Aldridge (of Snowflake Hydrangea fame) and a wine tasting. Folks are also invited to submit events for consideration using the online contact form.

Artful Bench

How’s this for a beautiful woodworking project to keep you in the shade this month? This bench I saw on a garden tour in the Philadelphia area is a great inspiration for repurposing some limbs from fallen or cut trees. I’m envisioning crape myrtle with its beautiful smooth bark, but many wood types will work. The great thing about a piece like this is that no two will be just alike. 

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