March 2016
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Sweetshrub flowers may smell like Juicy Fruit gum.  

Sweetshrub Earns Its Name

Sweetshrub may be an old-fashioned, almost-forgotten shrub, but this native whose flowers may smell like Juicy Fruit gum merits a spot on a medium to large property. The deep-maroon blooms that appear in the spring are to be appreciated from up close because of their color or fragrance. At its best, the fragrance of sweetshrub is noticeable long before the beautiful, but low-key blooms, are and, thankfully, the blossoms last a long time. In the fall, it has a pretty golden-yellow color before the leaves drop. An adaptable shrub that grows 8-10 feet tall, it is often found in shady, wooded areas growing with an open form so its unusual blooms are more visible. Interestingly, not all sweetshrubs have an equally strong fragrance. A good time to buy one is when they are in bloom so you can sniff before you buy. The hybrid varieties such as Hartlage Wine (Calycanthus x raulstonii Hartlage Wine) have the largest, most showy flowers, but aren’t generally as fragrant as the native one (Calycanthus floridus). To find a sweetshrub, ask at nurseries carrying native and old-fashioned shrubs.

Strawberries Are Getting Easier

Years ago, about the only way to buy a strawberry plant was bare-rooted. Today, plants are grown in containers and come to us with vigorous tops and well-developed roots. Many even include a few blooms and fruit. Look for Bonnie Plants strawberries at your local Quality Co-op. When handling young plants, never plant them deeper than they are growing in their container. The crown, where the stems arise, is extremely sensitive to being buried and will rot if below the soil line. Plant, water and fertilize these nicely developed transplants regularly and you will have a nice crop of strawberries early this summer.

Planning to locate roses against the wall of the house or on a free-standing garden wall? Try to choose an east-facing wall, if you have the option. That way the plants will get enough sun in the morning, but are safe from the searing, direct afternoon sun and heat of walls facing west or south. They will be a lot happier and less likely to have trouble with mites. Also, put some distance between your rose and an air-conditioning compressor whose blowing air can damage blooms and dry the plants. If you set the root ball of the plant a couple of feet away from the wall of your house, it will be out from under the eaves enough to get good rainfall, too.

Steps Aside

  Fill spaces between stepping stones with creeping Jenny.

The area between and to the sides of stepping stones can sometimes be hard to deal with. You can always fill in with gravel, crushed brick or other fine material, but only if there is no wash and you don’t mind a little of the material making its way onto the stones. Another option is grass, but Southern lawn grasses such as zoysia, Bermuda, centipede or St. Augustine need regular weed-eating to keep the grass from overtaking the stones. Another option is to find a small-leaved plant that will grow to fill in the space. In this case, creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia "Aurea") creates a mat of golden foliage. Like a lawn grass, it may also need trimming at the edges, but is usually a little easier to keep back than a dense grass. You can usually find creeping Jenny in nurseries in 4-inch pots or sometimes smaller to plant close together so it quickly fills in to make a ground cover. It’s a brilliant color, too, and a nice contrast to other plants surrounding it. Be prepared to pull runners that creep into other beds, or let them go and see if you like the golden floor in that bed, too!

Vegetable Transplants Available Now

An assortment of vegetable transplants from Bonnie Plants is available at your local Quality Co-op now. These items arrive at the approximate planting time, so be on the lookout as you prepare your spring and summer garden. Remember to water the biodegradable pots thoroughly so they are a dark-brown color and moist when you plant. This will help them break down more quickly and make sure the roots grow through.

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