December 2015
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Armand clematis always surprises with fragrant, late-winter blooms.  

Fragrance When You Least Expect It

There are a few great landscape plants that bloom in fall and winter to bring fragrance to your garden during the off season. Try tea olive (Osmanthus species), a shrub, and Armand clematis (Clematis armandii), an evergreen vine. In South Alabama, the loquat tree (Eriobotrya japonica) is a nice small tree with large, evergreen leaves with fragrant late-winter blooms. Avoid eleagnus, which also has a nice fragrance, because it is on the state’s list of invasive plants.

Discouraging the Squirrels

One way to keep squirrels from eating the seed in your bird feeder is to make it hot!

Add crushed hot pepper flakes, hot pepper seeds, hot peppercorns (whole or cracked) or coarsely ground hot pepper to the seed. Put enough in with the seeds that the squirrels are sure to come across it frequently. Avoid cayenne powder because it can get into the bird’s eyes. The heat doesn’t bother the birds as they don’t have the capsaicin sensors, but the squirrels have to be desperate to eat it. Most of the time, they will go elsewhere for food.

Evergreen Tapestry in Winter

A great landscape offers a nice mix of trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers that offer color, foliage and fragrance unique for each season. That’s what invites you out into the garden to see what is happening each day. Evergreens, which maintain their foliage through the seasons (thus the name, evergreen), are particularly important to help carry a garden through the winter. Landscape designers use them in key places to anchor foundation plantings, provide privacy screens or just introduce subtle, but interesting, foliage textures and colors. You can mix it up with needle-leaf and big-leafed evergreens for a variety of textures. Then mix the leaf colors of evergreens - the assortment varies from gray to various shades of green to chartreuse to gold. One of the prettiest assortments of evergreen trees and large shrubs I’ve ever seen functioned as a windscreen at a home on top of Monte Sano. It was a long planting of mixed evergreens with contrasting textures and colors so it looked like a giant living tapestry. The same can be accomplished on a smaller scale to create a vignette of textures and colors that looks good in any season, but especially in winter. Now is a good time to shop for those plants

Wintering Cilantro

Most of the time, fall-planted cilantro will tolerate Alabama winters; but, if you want it to produce more leaves in the cold weather, place a cloche over the plant or cover it with a white frost blanket during cold spells. This will protect it from severe freezes and then, as the weather warms up, the plant will grow new leaves until the next cold spell comes along. Fall-planted cilantro will put on many flushes of growth before it flowers in the spring, that is why it is always good to plant cilantro in the fall. When the weather warms up in March or April, the plants will stretch and bloom. Some gardeners get frustrated with cilantro because it blooms and stretches shortly after they plant it, leaving them to think that it’s not a good crop. However, results are a lot more productive in the fall! When spring arrives, leave the cilantro to bloom in the garden to attract bees and other beneficial insects that like cilantro blooms. Later you can harvest the mature seeds (coriander) to use in Asian and Latin American dishes.

  A wildflower meadow is a beautiful sight!

Wildflower Seed

There is still time to plant an abundance of wildflowers from seed on your property, whether it’s to create a wildflower meadow, line a long driveway or just plant a flowerbed with flowers that attract native bees and other pollinators. Many wildflower species germinate quickly, allowing the seedling to establish a root system before top growth begins in spring. You can buy a few packets of seed to sow individually or purchase seeds in bulk for large areas. Some companies sell seed mixes especially suited to the Southeast that include a mix of reseeding annuals and perennials. To spread seeds over a large area, mix them with sand (1 part seed to 10 parts sand). Stir the seeds and sand together in a bucket and scatter by the handful. Don’t rake or cover with soil because many wildflower seeds need light to sprout. Instead, walk over the area (or use a lawn roller in large areas) to make sure the seeds have contact with the ground.

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