November 2018
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


Southern sugar maple is a native fall beauty.

Try This Sugar Maple

Vermonters love their sugar maples, and rightly so, but did you know there is a sugar maple native to our area, too? It’s not typically tapped for maple syrup, but it does make a beautiful landscape tree with glorious fall color. In gardens, trees are typically about 30-50 feet tall, but one in Southhampton, Virginia, was just crowned the American Forests Champion at a whopping 126 feet tall! The Southern sugar maple (Acer barbatum) is also called Florida maple, and is one of the few trees that provides fairly decent fall color even in South Alabama. Trees turn yellow to orange before they drop, often with color variation in the same tree, which makes it all the more interesting. It is a nice tree for moist, open lawn areas where there is adequate room for the roots, but it is not a good tree for constricted areas or as a street tree. One place to spot it in the wild is on the banks of Lake Martin. This is a much better choice for our landscapes than a northern sugar maple (Acer sacchrum). Look for it at a nursery that carries or can order native plants.

Pansies and violas continually top the list of good winter flowers.



Pansies and Violas Differ

When shopping for winter garden color, do you distinguish between a pansy and viola? These close relatives are displayed interchangeably at garden centers, but in the garden each has special strengths. Pansies have larger leaves and flowers, so it takes fewer plants to cover the same space in a flowerbed. Majestic Giants is an old, large variety with a history as a cut flower in little vases that work for short stems. Violas have smaller leaves and more but smaller flowers, making them perfectly suited for containers. A little bit tougher – they often do better through on-and-off cold spells and also last a little longer into the heat next spring. The tiny Johnny Jump Up (aka Good King Henry) is sometimes called a wild pansy because it can reseed and pop up unexpectedly. A charming little plant, it has extremely small flowers often creating a blanket of fall and winter blossoms. Getting this to reseed between stepping stones is a real treat.


Shop clay pots carefully if you are looking for some that will last a long time.


Clay Pots

This is the time of year when some clay pots meet the end of their life. Water gets into the clay and the pot cracks or flakes as the water freezes. However, pots that are well fired usually last much longer. I have some terra cotta containers stamped "made in Italy" that have served outdoors for more than 10 years. In general, pots imported from Mexico are less resistant to cold. Sometimes you can tell the better-fired pots by their darker color, smoother surface and higher price. However, you can help extend the life of the less expensive containers by waterproofing the inside and outside with several coats of the same type of stone sealer used on floors and countertops.


Strawberry Planting

Strawberries planted in the fall will produce better in spring because they have several months to get established. Now is the best time to get them started. Earliglow, Chandler and Camerosa are popular "June bearers," which is actually a misnomer for us because they usually start bearing long before June.

Ozark Beauty and Quinalt are everbearers, which typically fruit on and off through spring, midsummer and fall. However, they are not as well adapted to our area as the June bearers. June bearing types set their bloom during the cool weather of fall and late winter, so take good care of them after planting! Plant in raised rows to help with drainage; mulch with pine straw, plastic sheeting, or landscape fabric to keep the fruit clean. If slugs are present in the garden, they will find the strawberries. In this case, plastic or fabric is the best choice as it is not quite as attractive to them as organic mulch such as pine straw.


Winter Blooms That Smell Good

Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean that the garden has to go without fragrance. Several great landscape plants bloom on and off during warm spells in the winter with a wonderful fragrance that will cause you to take notice. Look for Osmanthus types such as tea olive and hybrids types, along with old-fashioned winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima); both of these are large evergreen shrubs. Armand clematis (Clematis armandii) is a vigorous evergreen vine. In South Alabama loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a small tree that might also produce some fruit if the blooms don’t get frosted.


Lois Trigg Chaplin is author of “The Southern Gardener’s Book of Lists” and former garden editor of Southern Living Magazine.