October 2014
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Remember Outside Tender Plants

Have you ever lost a favorite, frost-tender potted plant because you forgot to bring it in during the first cold spell? I hope you can say, "No," but for those of us who need a reminder – this is it. As the weather cools and frost threatens, prepare to move houseplants, citrus and tropicals to their designated shelters. Check for mites, aphids or scale because just one infested plant can cause trouble for all the others in the same place. If you’re like me, you’re scurrying just before dark on the night of a predicted freeze, but, if there’s time, wash the plants with a strong stream from your hose (or use your shower to help knock off dust and insects). In order to set flower buds, many cactus and orchids like cooler weather, but not freezing temps; move them in and out during this time of year to enjoy days and nights above 45 or 50 degrees.

Early Spring Blooms

Those great early spring blooms of sweet pea, larkspur, cornflower, hollyhock, calendula and poppy actually start now – from seeds or plants. These seeds sown in the fall often sprout now and appear to do nothing, but they are really working underground growing roots to support a surge of growth at the first hint of warmth in February or March. Sow seeds carefully in level areas not prone to washing. A word about buying seeds: You may need to order seed packets from mail order sources, as many seed companies have already picked up their retail seed packets for the year and will not replenish until late winter for next year. This happens because seeds have a shelf life and the new crop is only ready at the end of the seed harvest season. This is frustrating for gardeners trying to start a fall garden from seeds. When possible, plan ahead and buy your fall garden seeds in the spring, when you know they will be available. Store them in a cool, dry place.

811 - Call Before You Dig

Digging in your landscape can cause you to run into utility lines. To avoid problems, you can call 811 a few days before digging to notify your local utilities companies. In a few days, they’ll send a locator to mark the approximate location of your underground lines, pipes and cables, so you’ll know what’s below and be able to dig safely. For more information about this service, visit www.call811.com.

Keeping Lantana

Want to improve the chances of overwintering your lantana? Don’t prune it this fall after it stops blooming and drops its leaves. Leave the brown, leafless stems (even if dead) in place. All that top growth will help protect the plant during the winter. After all danger of frost has passed in the spring, you can cut back any dead wood or trim it back to the base. Also wait until then to fertilize the plants. Give the plants well into May to see if they sprout new growth.



  Elephant garlic looks a lot like a leek, to which is it related.

Grow Your Own Garlic

Garlic is becoming one of those items that gardeners who love to cook also love to grow because growing your own gives you more options in the kitchen. Now is the time to order plants, but you may need to order bulbs from a mail order source if you can’t find them locally. Elephant garlic is actually more closely related to leeks and is known for its mild garlic-like flavor. It is said to not store as well as garlic, but I’ve had it keep for at least three months, which is long enough for me to use it. You will find soft neck and hard neck garlic in catalogs. Soft neck is the most common type you find at the grocery store. Soft neck garlic keeps the longest. Hardneck has the strongest flavor. If you enjoy garlic-laden dishes, try several. They are very cold hardy and easy to grow through our winters. My elephant garlic (in Birmingham) made it through the winter of 2013-14.

Bulbs that Last Years, Even in Shade

Looking for bulbs that are dependable and will come back year after year under trees and shady areas of your landscape? Try sturdy bulbs like scilla, leucojum and snowdrops. Scilla (Scilla hyancinthoides hispanica), also called wood hyacinth, is pretty in the garden and also makes a nice, short-cut flower for a small vase. Snowdrops are named for the little white blossoms that pop up in the winter and early spring. The earliest to flower is Garden Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, but in South Alabama stick to Giant Snowdrop, Galanthus elwesii, that needs fewer chilling hours. "Chilling hours" are a measure of how much cold a plant needs to break dormancy and bloom. It is very important for distinguishing varieties of fruit trees such as peaches, but applies to things like garden bulbs as well. Leucojum looks a lot like a lily-of-the-valley, but the blooms are distinguishable by a little green spot on the flowers. There are two species commonly available: Leucojum vernum, the earliest, and L. aestivum that blooms a little later. Be sure to buy your bulbs now while they are still available, but store them in a cool, dark place until around Thanksgiving when the soil is cool enough for planting.

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