August 2014
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Master Gardening

If you want to make your lawn and garden more beautiful, grow lots of your own fruits and vegetables, or otherwise just learn more about gardening and how to garden smartly, there is a way to do just that. The Alabama Master Gardener program provides several weeks of classroom training by experts, usually from Auburn University, and then the chance to practice what you learned through volunteering (and at home, of course). The state Master Gardeners group is a great community of local garden enthusiasts who meet regularly for projects, to share information and just plant camaraderie. There is also a national group that meets every 2 years; last year the annual meeting with educational sessions was on a cruise to Alaska! To learn more about the program, contact your regional Extension office.

  Even if you aren’t a birdwatcher, this app is an education on the feathered friends found in our state.

App for Alabama Birding

Are you aware of the app for birdwatchers in Alabama? Available for both iPhone and Droid at  and choose Smartphone Apps, the Alabama Birding Trail app is a guide to the multiple birding trails in different regions of our state along with bird information, trail directions and more. A project of the state tourism department, the system of eight trails highlights the best public locations available to watch birds year-round. There are 270 birding sites in the state with hundreds of species of birds to discover throughout the state. It’s a big app, so be sure you’re connected to WiFi and that you have room on your mobile device.

Houseplants for the Outdoors

This time of year it can be hard to find just the right plant to dress up a container or spot in the garden because summer plants are about gone, but it’s too early for fall items. However, there are always tropical houseplants with beautiful foliage colors and textures. These are generally in the greenhouse of your favorite garden center. Most of these plants prefer shade, so don’t burn them up in the full August sun. If you need something for full sun, stick to succulents, cacti and outdoor palms.

Turn kids loose with old boards and leftover paint and you might get a precious picture like this.  

Plywood Painting

Are the children restless during the last week or two of summer vacation? Give them some large pieces of scrap plywood or other boards and turn them loose making paintings and murals for your backyard or garden. You can lean these against the fence, as pictured here, or just about anywhere. It’s also a good way to use up some partial cans of paint that need to be empty before going to the landfill.

Remember Bulb Orders

Now is the time to start thinking about daffodils or other spring-flowering bulbs. They will begin appearing in garden centers next month, or you can pre-order from mail order sources now. One of the perils of mail order is that you must know which bulbs do well in our low-chill climate. Many of the bulbs sold are better adapted to places where winters are longer and deeper. Among the very best narcissus for Alabama are Ice Follies, Thalia, February Gold and King Alfred. Not many tulips are perennial here but, if you must try some, choose early-flowering single types for the best chance at having them come back for several years.

Looking for takers for your extra harvest? Local food pantries are often happy to take produce. keeps a database of nearly 7,000 food pantries and other organizations that can use the extra harvest to enable local gardeners to help provide for needs in the community. To find out if there is a food pantry or community kitchen near you, go to and enter your zip code under Find a Pantry.

Vegetable Garden

Start removing browned and diseased tomato, squash and other plants that are at the end of their life to make way for the fall garden. Although it is hot, late this month is the time to start seeds of root crops and set out many cole crops for the fall garden. Hold off on planting lettuce and arugula, though; they will just try to flower in the heat, making tall, lanky plants with off-flavor leaves. The fall garden is my personal favorite. It is easy to manage, has fewer pests because it’s at its peak during the cool weather, and provides months of harvest. Great cut-and-come-again hardy items for winter include lettuce, endive, arugula, mizuna, parsley, kale, collards, mustard and other greens. Root crops include radishes, carrots, turnips and beets. If you cover these with a frost cloth during the coldest parts of winter, they will reward you with a harvest until warm weather and long days cause them to bolt (bloom) next spring.

Collecting Seeds

Gather seeds of flowers that are easy to reseed. These include cleome, moonvine, melampodium, gomphrena, zinnia, portulaca, moon vine and marigolds. Look for seed heads that are fully mature (usually dry and brown) and harvest when the weather is dry. These flowers often reseed themselves, which is nice, but sometimes seeds are washed away in winter rains or eaten by critters, so it’s a good idea to gather some for insurance. Keep the harvested seeds in a cool, dry and dark place.

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