November 2014
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

You Can Still Plant Spinach

Spinach is one of those garden greens that can be finicky – slow to sprout and grow, but, once you get the first harvest, you’ll know it was worth any extra effort. Spinach, grown slowly through cool weather, tastes rich and sweet with a wonderful chewy texture. The plants are very cold hardy, so you can still sow seeds now directly in the garden. Soak seeds overnight to speed germination and be sure to keep the seeds watered. You can also start from transplants if available at your local Quality Co-op or garden center. In North Alabama, cover plants with a row cover or cold frame to encourage plenty of growth as the weather cools. Established plants withstand frosts down to about 20 degrees.

 
  Curly parsley and pansies are an easy and reliable winter combo.

Fertilize Trees and Shrubs

You can fertilize trees and shrubs in late fall after all the leaves drop and the plants appear dormant. This is especially helpful to young trees you are trying to encourage as research shows fertilizer applied in fall is more effective in promoting growth than spring applications. Even though the tops are dormant, there is still activity going on underground in fall. Use a winterizer formula high in potassium and low in nitrogen, and do not be tempted to over apply.

Parsley in Pots for Winter

Don’t forget that something as simple as curly parsley makes great foliage in a container for the winter. The dark green leaves are great companions for cold-hardy flowers such as pansies and dianthus. Plant them soon and fertilize so the plants have some time to grow before it gets cold. Growth stops in mid winter when the high temperatures are below 45 or 50 degrees, but they will stay green and come back with each warm spell.

Give Old Blueberry Bushes a Good Pruning

Sometimes it’s hard to bring yourself to cut back a big plant such as a fruitful blueberry, but by removing the oldest canes, you encourage more branching. The more branches there are, the more berries you will have. First remove any branches that died in the summer or just look old and thin. Then cut two or three of the largest old canes at ground level and new ones will arise. Water and fertilize in the spring. Cut old canes again next year, if needed.

Protect Half-Hardy Herbs

Lemon verbena, lemon grass and pineapple sage need a little winter protection. After frost knocks these plants back, cover them in a fluffy mound of pine straw to protect from a hard winter, especially in North Alabama. You can trim the woody stems of lemon verbena and pineapple sage back slightly to make it easier to pile the straw over the plants, but avoid cutting them back within a foot of the ground until spring.

 
Fall is a good time to get ground covers planted so they can get a head start on spring growth. Mondo grass, such as the dwarf variety above, is one of the easiest and most dependable evergreen ground covers.  
   

Plant Ground Covers Now

Fall is a good time to get ground covers planted so they can root and get a head start on spring growth. It’s also a little easier to keep the space weeded in winter when fewer weeds are sprouting. So if you’ve got an area where grass doesn’t grow well or that you’d simply rather not mow, this is a good time to fix it. Five of the easiest and most dependable evergreen ground covers include mondo grass, liriope, Confederate jasmine, Asian jasmine (South Alabama) and pachysandra (North Alabama). After several years, mowing renews these. Stay away from ivy unless it’s in a place where there are no trees or structures to climb, or you will have perpetual maintenance. Shore juniper and other low-growing junipers are also popular for sunny areas, but they can be tricky to keep weed-free and looking fresh.

Snapdragons are Happy Now

Planting snapdragons in the fall is always tricky because you want to get them in the ground early enough that they root before it gets too cold, but not so early that they suffer in late heat. Early November usually still offers good weather for a fall planting; so, if you haven’t already done so, go ahead and plant them for winter and early spring. Fertilize the plants with a product that contains a nitrate form of fertilizer as it is the most-readily available in cool soil. The plants will surprise you with how well they respond. If you haven’t grown snapdragons in a while, you will be surprised at how long the new varieties will continue blooming into the spring and even summer with increased vigor.

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