March 2017
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

A Wisteria You Can Live With


American wisteria blooms a little later than the invasive wisterias.

Gardeners love the spring blooms and fragrance of wisteria, but the vine can do much damage, from tearing up the siding on a house to choking out native plants on the roadside. However, there is actually a wisteria that is tamer than Chinese and Japanese wisterias that have escaped into the wild. If you want a wisteria in your garden, choose the native American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). The most well-known American variety is Amethyst Falls. Even the native wisteria is a vigorous vine and needs a very sturdy support. A simple lattice structure or lightweight support will not hold it.


Strong Dahlia Stems

Planting dahlias? You can strengthen the stems of the tall, dinner-plate types by adding three tablespoons of triple super phosphate when planting the tubers. In addition, the plants need plenty of sun to grow sturdy; they will be more spindly in the shade. The Karma group of dahlias was bred with strong stems for the cut flower industry. These include Maxime, Melody Swing, Nuit d’Ete, Park Princess and varieties with Karma in the name. Even plants with sturdy stems can get knocked over in rains as their large blooms become heavy when wet. If you are planting a big dahlia variety, drive a stake into the ground so you can later tie the plant to the support.


Hold Your Snapdragons

The snapdragons in your garden might last longer than you think, as many of today’s improved varieties are more heat tolerant than they used to be. After the blooms fade, snip off the flower spike and keep the plants watered and healthy through summer. They might surprise you with more blooms.



Do you know you can grow your own horseradish? The plants are easy to grow and not bothered by pests. When you need a little horseradish, you dig a piece with a root and grate the root. By growing your own, you’ll always have fresh, instead of watching the unused portion of a jar turn brown in the fridge. The plants are perennial, so give them a permanent spot in the garden. They have large upright leaves that grow from ground level at the center of the plant. Plants get about 2-foot tall and equally wide. You can search for pictures of horseradish online of what a patch might look like as the roots spread underground.


Bluebirds appreciate shelter that is suited to them and not as attractive to other birds. (Credit: Moultrie Wingscapes Birdcam)


Encouraging Bluebirds

Once more common than they are today, beautiful, little bluebirds are under pressure from loss of habitat and from non-native birds such as starlings that compete with them for food and shelter. It’s not easy to attract bluebirds because they are very specific about where they live and nest. They prefer lightly populated areas such as the outskirts of a city, a small town or a rural area. The National Bluebird Society website ( has very helpful and clear information on ways to attract and support bluebirds.


Trillium Garden


Trilliums provide a fresh breath on a woodland path.

Native woodland wildflowers offer a great spring surprise when they pop into bloom, reminding us of how pretty an undisturbed forest floor can be. If you have a wooded area on your property, even just a small one, there are native woodland wildflowers you can plant to bring the floor to life. One of the most common wildflowers throughout Alabama is trillium. There are several species that vary in the color of their bloom and also the shape and size of the foliage, but all are a real treat. The one pictured here was photographed growing near a creek in Butler County. However, you don’t have to hunt through the woods to see them. The Huntsville Botanical Garden has a special trillium collection within the Mathews Nature Trail where hundreds of trilliums are on display in the spring ( Because trilliums are a specialty plant, they may not be widely available at a garden center, but you may find them on sale by a local botanical society and Master Gardener group. They are also available by mail order.


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