In winter, when bees are not present to pollinate citrus trees, gardeners can take their place until warm weather arrives.
Winter Citrus in Garden Centers
The easy availability of extra-large plastic containers and inexpensive portable greenhouses makes growing citrus easier than ever for all Alabamians, not just those on the coast. This time of year, citrus trees are often sold in bloom at garden centers throughout the state. If you bring one home to keep indoors or in a greenhouse until spring, be sure to hand pollinate the flowers to get fruit set. Most citrus blooms in the spring when blossoms can be visited by bees, but greenhouse-grown plants may be in bloom now; so it will be up to you to play bee and pollinate the blossoms. To do this, collect the sticky golden pollen with an artist’s brush or cotton swab and brush it onto the pistil in the center of the flower. Do this for each bloom until all the flowers have been pollinated. If you have a variety like Meyer lemon that blooms continuously, it helps to somehow identify the flowers that you worked. A couple of ideas are to clip the branch with a clothespin or hang a tiny strip of colorful flagging tape. That way you will know where the new unpollinated blooms are when they open.
Candle Fire Okra
January is the month when we dream of the upcoming garden while thumbing through our seed catalogs. This year, dog-ear the page for Candle Fire okra, a 2017 All America Selections winner that produces smooth (not ribbed) red pods as pretty as they are tasty. The plant has red stems, too. This variety may be the brightest red of all the okras; it will look good in beds along with the flowers. If you don’t have a lot of space, or prefer to just grow a little for fresh harvest, think of this plant as an ornamental that yields okra pods, too. The plant grows to 4-5 feet tall with good branching, so it will be like a hibiscus in the garden. Early maturing, it produces pods within two months of planting seed. Just be prepared to harvest it regularly to keep the plant growing and producing more pods. Edge the bed with low-growing flowers such as marigolds or a low-growing herb such as parsley for good companions.
The many side shoots that sprout from the leaf axils of a harvested broccoli makes it worth keeping plants after the main harvest.
Broccoli Shoots from the Side
If your fall broccoli is still in the garden, leave it for side shoots. Once the main head is harvested, most varieties send out a number of shoots with tiny buttons of broccoli from the side. Artwork is a recent introduction that is bred to produce lots of side shoots that are a little more open and looser than traditional broccoli, making it a great choice for continuous harvests.
Purple Pixie is a low-growing loropetalum that won’t eat your windows.
One positive thing about the drought is that it may give some of us a second chance to correct mistakes in the landscape. One lesson is to match the ultimate, mature size of the plant to the space. Plan for growth … because it will happen! This will save you lots of pruning in the future. For example, there is a lesson to be learned about loropetalum, a popular group of shrubs much appreciated and planted for their colorful foliage and blooms. Loropetalum cultivars range from the size of a small tree to a spreading, weeping form only 2 feet tall, but twice as wide. Read the label on these plants and look for the ultimate height of each. Purple Pixie is a weeping form suitable under windows.
Another lesson: avoid invasive plants. Remove existing ones and avoid planting any others. A list of invasive plants in Alabama is found on the webpage of the Alabama Invasive Plant Council at se-eppc.org/alabama. Some of the worst offenders are Bradford pear, English ivy, Chinese tallow, elaeagnus, Japanese honeysuckle, mimosa, popcorn tree and winter creeper euonymus. These plants choke out natives species in the wild. Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance has published a great booklet with some good suggestions for replacement plants, found online at gpca.uga.edu/pdfs/invasive_plants.pdf.