October 2015
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Healthy Soil is Alive

A healthy soil is alive with fungi, bacteria and other microbes that help to unlock nutrients and work in symbiosis with plant roots to feed them and protect them from problems. While we once viewed soil and plant nutrition on the basis of chemical analysis, emerging science shows that many organisms supply all the nutrients your plants need when they are in the right balance and the soil is full of organic matter. To learn more about how important it is to encourage all this life in your soil, search online using the topic "soil food web." As a part of this approach to soil health, it is important to have a healthy compost pile and limit the use of fertilizers high in salts that harm microbes.

Mystery Fragrance

Eleagnus can spread to places where it is not welcome. (Credit: John Reuter, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org)  

What is that sweet smell that wafts by in drifts, but you can’t find a flower anywhere? It’s probably the blossoms of a nearby thorny elaeagnus (Elaeagnus pungens), also called thorny olive, silverthorn and spotted elaeagnus. If you look closely under the leaves, you will find a tiny white flower with a surprisingly powerful, sweet perfume. Often planted as a quick-growing, dense evergreen screen, this plant blooms each fall with a wonderful perfume that is carried over a long distance, as is jasmine and magnolia. Thorny elaeagnus was introduced from Asia for tough landscape jobs such as roadsides because it is very tolerant of almost all growing conditions except wet soils. However, it is becoming a nuisance plant, spreading to places where it is not invited. Tolerant of sun or shade, this elaeagnus will grow in the woods as well as sunny roadsides, adding to the list of non-natives that can become problems in our natural habitats. It is on the invasive plants list of Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and other states. You can learn more about it at invasive.org for a reminder that just because something smells good doesn’t mean it can’t stink!

Cabbage Caterpillars

  Cabbage caterpillars such as these cabbage loopers hatch from eggs and start out very small, growing larger as they eat holes in your cole crops.

Caterpillars will feast on the leaves of cabbage and its relatives – broccoli, collards, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts – that grow so well in our fall gardens. When caterpillars invade, they will quickly chew holes in the leaves, rendering cabbage plants nearly useless and doing plenty of damage to other cole crops. Watch for cabbage loopers, velvety-green cabbageworms and cross-striped cabbageworms. The green ones camouflage themselves very well. To control the pests, use Dipel or other caterpillar killers containing Bacillus thuringiensis. Bt takes a few days to kill the caterpillars, but it won’t harm beneficial insects. Make sure the dust or spray gets down into the head and tight leaves where pests hide; and it is easier to apply a spray to the underside of the leaves. This is not a contact spray – the caterpillars have to eat it to be effective – so it’s not important to cover each pest with spray or dust. Just try to get it in areas where they are feeding.

Encouraging Bees and Other Pollinators

One way to make sure your garden is full of bees and butterflies next year is to plant perennial flowers that serve as either sources of nectar or food for larvae. Fall is an excellent time to plant these perennials that include several types of milkweed (Asclepias species), bee balm (Monarda species), oregano, coneflowers (Rudbeckia sp.), indigo (Baptisa australis), sweet goldenrod (Solidago odora) and many types of perennial salvias. Even dandelions, the bane of a manicured lawn, provide one of the first early sources of nectar in spring before other blooms appear. Learn more about how to identify the many types of pollinators and plants that encourage their presence at www.pollinator.org.

Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program

Now is the time for third-grade teachers to register their classes for Bonnie Plants’ 3rd Grade Cabbage Program and a chance to win a $1,000 scholarship. These are giant cabbages capable of growing to 50 pounds! Cabbages are delivered to participating schools at the right time for planting. Students can grow them at home or at school. Teachers pick a class winner and submit the student’s picture to Bonnie Plants website to be entered in a random drawing to choose the state winner. This is a great program that introduces youngsters to gardening! For more information to share with your favorite third graders or their teachers, visit bonniecabbageprogram.com.

Cool Season Veggies

There is still time to set out transplants of lettuce and other cold-hardy, leafy, cool-season vegetables. Collards, kale, mustard and lettuce are staples of the fall garden that last well into winter. The dark-red leaf lettuces are the most cold-hardy of the lettuces; although all will tolerate at least a light frost if properly hardened. Be ready to protect all your leafy greens from the first frosts, particularly if the weather has been warm and then makes a sudden drop.

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