May 2017
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


Gomphrena is a tough plant with papery blossoms that withstand dry weather well.

Tough Plants for Summer Color

If the summer turns out to be as dry as last year, you will be glad you planted some summer color that will look good without much water. Plants with colorful, waxy foliage such as succulents are an excellent choice and nurseries are carrying more and more of them. Also, look to flax and dracaenas for their spiky burgundy or green leaves, or purple queen (also called purple heart) for a beautiful, spreading mass of purple foliage that carpets the ground or hangs over the edge of a planter. Wormwood is a drought-tolerant perennial that offers a fine texture and pretty, silver or gray-green leaves, depending on the variety. It’s a great companion for other colors. Great flowering plants include lantana, oleander, gaura, Mexican sage and gomphrena.


Greasy Spot Fungus on Citrus

Last year, I saw a number of citrus trees in gardens and for sale with a leaf problem called greasy spot that causes brown spotting of the underside of a leaf. It eventually shows up as yellowing on the topside and coalesces, so the entire leaf turns yellow and falls from the tree. Lemons, grapefruit and tangelos are the most severely affected, while mandarin oranges and kumquats are less so. After having the problem properly identified by the Alabama Extension office in my county, I am ready to spray the trees this month and next with a copper spray to prevent the problem this year. I also removed all dead leaves that had dropped into the pot or its surroundings. Now is the time to begin spraying for greasy spot, and you should repeat the spray in June.

Dwarf sunflowers are perfect for the edge of a garden bed.


Sunflowers from Seed

A little pack of sunflower seeds offers a big show in the garden. Sunflower types include giant, single-stalked mammoths; smaller-flowered, branching ones for cutting; and dwarf for bedding. With the exception of pollen-less types bred to not shed indoors, sunflowers are much appreciated by bees and, of course, later by birds. Branching-types are just right for cutting because they grow more branches and flowers if you cut the blooms regularly. Toward the end of the season, leave some flowers to make seed for birds to feed on in the fall.


Grafted Tomatoes? Yep!

One of the latest trends in tomatoes for the garden is grafting where a choice scion (often an heirloom) is grafted onto a rootstock that is nematode- and disease-resistant. The combination is more productive than if the variety is grown on its own roots. Grafted tomato plants are widely used in commercial greenhouse production, but occasionally plants are sold in garden centers or from mail-order companies for home gardens. Some are sold under a brand called Mighty Mato, but others are simple listed as "grafted tomatoes." If you should try one, it is important to plant it so the graft is well above the ground. If the graft is buried, the top will grow its own roots and the benefits of the superior, grafted rootstock will be lost.


New Mini Watermelon

Melon planting time is here, and Mini Love, a new All-America Selection winner, offers a personal-sized fruit that grows on short 3- to 4-foot vines. Each vine produces up to six fruits per plant, making it perfect for a small space. This is a deep-red fleshed, Asian watermelon with a thin, but strong, rind that lends itself to carving for culinary presentation. Like all good watermelons, it is has a high sugar content.


Cilantro’s Dark Side

I’ve heard folks say they can’t grow cilantro. It’s not them – it’s the plant. Cilantro goes to seed very quickly in warm weather. Did you plant some a month or two ago that is now a tall plant with blooms and wispy, thin leaves not suited for chopping? The best way around this natural growth cycle is to plant cilantro in the fall when it can start in cooler weather that favors its growth. In fact, plants can withstand frost and remain in the garden until they bolt in spring. You may also try growing it now by sowing seeds in a shady bed and keeping a light layer of pine straw over the ground to keep it cool and moist. Choose a spot within the shade on the north side of the house, if possible, because seeds germinate best in cool soil. Bury seeds lightly, but firmly because they need darkness to germinate. Harvest the leaves while still young because the plant will quickly stretch tall. If you have cilantro blooming in the garden now, leave it for syrphid flies and other beneficial insects that love the flowers. The plant may also reseed itself from seeds dropping to the ground.


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