May 2016
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

  Salvias are a favorite of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.

Salvias for Flying Garden Friends

Salvias include many annual and perennial species that not only offer lovely flowers that go on for weeks but they are also favorites of bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Start with the prolific autumn sage (Salvia greggi) with varieties that include several bright colors. This Texas native is a tough perennial that blooms year after year. About 3 feet tall by midsummer, if you keep the old blossoms trimmed so it stays fresh, it will bloom from spring until frost. Hummingbirds also love red pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), reliably perennial in South and Central Alabama. Enjoy the pineapple scent of the leaves in vases indoors. The leaves and flowers lend a pineapple scent to salads, too. It blooms in late summer and fall, just in time for hummingbirds migrating south. Indigo Spires is a hybrid with dark purple-blue flowers on long, arching flower stems that just keep on making new flowers. Give it room because it can grow 4 feet or taller and as wide. Trim the tips of the stems on young plants to encourage branching and more flowers. Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha) is a large plant (4 feet) with fuzzy purple blooms in the fall. It’s a breath of fresh air as the summer wanes and looks great with other fall-blooming perennials such as goldenrod and swamp sunflower. Shop around. There are a dozen or more dependable salvias that in combination will provide your garden with blooms from spring until frost. The bees, hummingbirds and butterflies will love them. Check the labels for sun exposure as most need full sun, but a few require partial shade.

Give Mom Some Hummingbirds for Mother’s Day

The mom who says, "I don’t need anything," might enjoy a hummingbird feeder (or another one, it’s hard to have too many). Another option is flowers hummingbirds prefer, especially those that are perennial or reseed themselves so she has them next year, too. Some favorite flowers include Turks cap, hibiscus, red salvias, zinnia, petunia, bee balm, cleome and butterfly bush.

Check Your Mulch

For years, gardeners have been making a good habit of mulching around shrubs to keep down the weeds and help keep the soil cool and moist. However, there are cases where the mulch gets put on a little too heavily each time and builds up to a point where it becomes too deep and harms the plants. Check the mulch in your shrub beds. It should be 1 or 2 inches deep, no more. When you scatter fluffy mulch such as pine straw it may be 3 or 4 inches deep at the time, but should settle to no more than 1 or 2 inches. When mulch is too thick, it can pile up around the base of plants inviting rot or other problems. It can also create a barrier so adequate water and air do not reach the roots and you see a gradual decline of plants.

Purple queen makes a bright and beautiful ground cover in flower beds.  

For a Spot of Purple

Purple queen, also called purple heart, is as bright as a flower, but never fades. Try this summer tropical in flowerbeds where the creeping purple stems can weave together as a ground cover or spill over the edge of a wall. They’ll do the same in a large container. Although it doesn’t mind places that are hot and dry, it also does fine in our high, summer humidity. Start with young plants sold in a garden center and space them at least a foot apart because they spread rapidly. About the only flaw of purple queen is its brittle stems; so handle it carefully and avoid planting near the basketball backdrop!

Big Tomato Plants

It’s getting easier and easier to make up for lost time in the garden with big tomato plants sold by Bonnie Plants. Look for them in large containers at your local Quality Co-op store. If you started late or you just want a tomato faster, you can buy these plants for your patio or to transplant to the garden where they will get larger. These usually bush varieties bear all their tomatoes within several weeks. Treat them extra carefully when transplanting. I’ve found that cutting away the container is easier than trying to slip the plant from the pot. You can leave the cage in place to support the plant and put another larger cage around it in the garden to accommodate new growth.

Early Summer Lawn Care

Once your brown lawn has turned green, and they did early this year, remember that is the signal to fertilize your lawn if you haven’t already done so. Zoysia, St. Augustine and hybrid Bermuda need a high nitrogen fertilizer, but not so for centipede. Look for centipede fertilizer that is lower in nitrogen and contains the extra iron needed to keep centipede a healthy green. Look for products containing slow-release or controlled-release nitrogen that feeds the lawn gradually and minimizes leaching.

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