May 2014
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Caging squash not only supports the long, hollow stems, but holds them upright so the fruit is easier to see. And it saves a little space.

Corral Your Squash

Here is a technique that I’ve only seen a couple of times in all my years of gardening, but it sure makes sense. We don’t typically think about confining squash, but the cage offers several benefits. It supports the long, hollow leaf stems that can be broken by hard wind and rain. It helps contain the sprawling stems and holds them upright, reducing contact with the prickly leaves when you harvest. It also makes it easier to see the fruit. It saves a little space, too! The key is to make your own cage with wide mesh concrete reinforcement wire so that the openings are large enough for your hand to reach inside. You can cut the wire so the cage is only a couple of feet tall.

The ruffled flowers of Sundance gaillardia do well through the summer.

A Wildflower Gets a New Look

Plant breeders have been giving old-fashioned gaillardia a variety of looks. The original plant (Gaillardia pulchella) is a wildflower native to the central United States that goes by the common name of Indian Blanket. It is the state flower of Oklahoma, a good indicator that it tolerates hot, dry conditions. Usually grown as an annual or short-lived perennial, the original Indian Blanket has a large, flat flower that looks a lot different from new varieties like Sundance, pictured here. These later ones are hybrids of the native and other species. Gaillardia is a favorite of butterflies, but not so much of deer, so it’s a good choice anywhere deer browse flowerbeds. They need lots of sun and well-drained soil. Trim off the spent blooms to encourage new ones to appear through the summer.

Jalapenos are Easy to Grow

If you like hot peppers, try growing jalapenos. These are easy to grow and can be very productive, especially through summer when sweet peppers often take a pause. The amount of heat in jalapenos is different according to variety (the description sometimes says) and by the level of stress experienced in the garden. To encourage milder peppers, water them regularly and harvest them while young. To encourage hotter peppers, run them a little dry and leave the fruits on the plant longer. Eventually the fruit turns red. Last year, I harvested more than 70 peppers from a single plant. The key to this is to harvest often, never leaving them on the plant to mature (turn red). Look for named hybrid varieties such as Mucho Nacho that have been developed for size and productivity. Extra-long, thick-walled peppers are great for stuffing to grill, or for slicing to make pickled rings. A very versatile pepper, jalapeno also makes good green pepper jelly. If you’ve ever preserved the fruit by smoking it, you’ve made chipotle! This is the pepper used to make chipotle sauces and other dishes that carry that name. Even if you don’t have a designated vegetable garden, jalapeno pepper plants are attractive enough to plant among your flowers. The plants grow well in large containers, too.

A new bottle with a hose-end sprayer makes it even easier to feed your garden with Bonnie’s Plant Food.

For Easy Fertilizing

Check out Bonnie Plants’ new plant food bottle with a hose-end sprayer attached. This will make it easier to feed as you water your garden, whether in pots or in the ground. Bonnie’s Plant Food is made from oil seed extract, which contains beneficial organic compounds that build stronger roots and tops and help the plant weather stresses. The product is also low in salts, which helps gardeners who are trying to build a good environment for earthworms and other soil flora and fauna. For a higher yield at harvest, try this plant food for a few weeks and see if you like the difference in the performance of your plants. It works well for flowers and shrubs, too.

Plants with Spikes

Lately there have been more ornamental plants with spiked leaves used in the garden for their texture. Garden designers like these because they make exclamation points in the garden, especially when contrasted with finer textures. Look for dracenas, agaves and yuccas when shopping for plants in this shape. For containers, you can even consider houseplants in shady areas of the garden.

Looking for Impatiens?

If you don’t see as many impatiens for sale in garden centers this year, it’s because a disease called downy mildew has been killing plants for the last few years. Some growers have been hesitant to produce them. However, you may see more New Guinea impatiens, which are not as susceptible to downy mildew diseases. These are impatiens with larger flowers that also adapt well to the sun. Their leaves may be variegated or colored a deep purple. Also, consider fibrous begonias, a fast-growing annual with plenty of colorful flowers, for the shade.

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