September 2015
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Daffodils that Multiply in Time

This beautiful field of daffodils at Bonnie Plants’ headquarters in Union Springs is a testament to how they can multiply. Not bothered by rodents or deer, certain daffodils will naturalize in areas where they get enough light and the foliage is not mowed down until it yellows in late spring. This time of year, you may buy them by the dozen and plant according to the spacing on the package. If you get really enthusiastic and order by the hundreds (they are often sold that way by bulb houses online), be sure to choose varieties that are likely to come back and even multiply. One of the best for naturalizing is Hoop Petticoat daffodil (Narcissus bulbocodium) that spreads by seed. Most just multiply by making more bulbs. Some of the tried-and-true varieties for Alabama include Barrett Browning, Butter and Eggs, Cheerfulness, February Gold, Jack Snipe, Ice Follies, King Alfred, Mount Hood, Tête-à-Tête, Thalia, Twin Sisters, Unsurpassable, Spellbinder and Carlton. Because some daffodils are better suited to our warm climate, it’s best to choose those that are proven instead of judging from pretty pictures in catalogs. Buy bulbs now and hold them in a dry, cool place such as a dry basement until you are ready to plant.

Bag Extra Leaves for Later

After several summers without chopped leaves to dry out the compost pile or to use as mulch in the garden, I figured out the best way to have a summer supply is to stockpile a few bagfuls in the fall. Leaves are high in carbon to help balance the many wet "greens" of summer such as many seasonal fruit and vegetable scraps that are higher in nitrogen. We have a leaf chopper that fits over the top of a big, lined garbage so it is easy to chop the leaves before bagging them. Chopping has several advantages: we get more leaves in a bag, the little pieces break down more quickly in a compost pile, and they are easier to spread around plants as mulch.

 
Greens planted now will be ready for harvest in the fall and winter.  

Plant Fall Greens Now

Now is the time to plant salad greens, winter-hardy herbs and cooking greens for fall and winter harvests. Begin with transplants of arugula, broccoli, lettuce, kale, collards and bok choy for a quick start. Turnip greens and mustard greens are easy from transplants or seed. All of these grow well in containers and small beds, so they can be grown just about anywhere. To add color and peppery flavors to your salads, also consider more unusual greens such as radicchio, red mustard, red kale, endive, nasturtium, mizuna, cress and tatsoi. Good, cold-hardy culinary herbs for winter are rosemary, cilantro, sage and parsley. Plant plenty of cilantro and parsley because it grows much more slowly in the cold weather than it does in the spring. One advantage to planting cilantro in the fall is that it stays low and leafy, unlike the way it stretches up to flower in the spring, so it yields a lot more harvests.

Free Pine Needle Mulch

Free mulch is everywhere in Alabama. As pine trees drop needles, gather the pine straw into bags to use as good, clean mulch for your shrubs, flowers and vegetables when you need it. Even if you have no pine trees on your place, neighbors may be happy to let you rake theirs. Store the needles in black plastic bags sealed tightly and stored where they can stay dry.

Rose Refresh

You can encourage a last flush of flowers in many reblooming roses by snipping off dead blooms, hips and dead stems this month. If they have a lot of disease, spray with a rose fungicide labeled for mildew and black spot. Sprinkle timed-release fertilizer around the plants and freshen with a clean layer of mulch. If your plants have dropped a lot of diseased leaves, raking away the old mulch and leaves will help keep the disease from building up in the soil. Water during dry weather, but avoid overhead sprinklers that encourage disease; hopefully, you already have soaker hose or a drip line set up. In a few weeks as the air gets cooler, the roses will flush out with new blooms that are happy to see fall.

Weed Control

Watch for cool-season weeds that start sprouting now. Annual bluegrass and henbit are two of the most common. The cleanest way to get rid of them is with some therapeutic hand weeding. However, if you need to use a weed killer on areas too large to weed by hand, consider spot spraying, treating just the areas that are weedy. Because weed killers are specific to broadleaf or grassy weeds, check with your local Quality Co-op or your regional Extension office if you aren’t sure of which product to use. To get accurate recommendations, it helps to have a picture or know the name of the problematic weed.

 
  Hummingbirds are busy feeding in preparation for migration.

Watch for Hummingbirds Headed South

Hummingbirds migrating through Alabama are stopping to eat as much as they can in preparation to fly south. Before they make the 18-hour nonstop flight across the Gulf, each tiny bird doubles its body weight to provide the extra energy needed to make it to shore. To do this, the birds must eat continuously before their journey. Nectar flowers are great attractants and provide some nectar, but hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water help the birds get more food in a concentrated way. Their diet of insects will provide most of the vitamins and protein. To learn more about hummers and enjoy speakers, workshops and tours with other bird enthusiasts, consider attending the Alabama Coastal BirdFest in the Mobile area September 30-October 3. Learn more about the event at www.alabamacoastalbirdfest.com.

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