November 2017
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


Here it is: broccoli, front and center. I thought it pretty enough to share.


Broccoli Bouquet

Vegetables are beautiful. They bring an awe-inspiring smile when we stop to study their form, colors and physiology carefully. These little miracles borne on stems provide us the sustenance of life. So one day I decided to put my broccoli side shoot in a pretty vase alongside the flowers.

A New Soil Test to Indicate Overall Quality

As science uncovers more about what constitutes good soil for gardens and crops, the Auburn University Soil Testing Lab is including additional tests to help provide a more complete picture of overall soil quality. Soil quality index testing goes beyond the routine soil test to include measures of cation-exchange capacity, micronutrients and metals, electrical conductivity, percent organic matter, ability to aggregate and respiration, an indication of microbial activity. To submit a sample, check with your local Extension office for test sample boxes and make sure to label the sample "SQI." This is critical for accurate results. Currently, a grant has been provided to defray costs of the $50 fee as the test is introduced. The free testing is available only to Alabama residents and will end when grant funds run out. Be sure the submitted samples are moist, but not soggy.

Wooden Dogwood

The idea of a pretty ornamental touch to your deck railing could be repeated in various motifs and in multiple deck sections or used once as an accent or on a gate. I’m sure wood carvers with skills to make a home and garden more beautiful can take an idea like this in many directions.

African violets are classic, blooming houseplants that can be found in a lot of different colors. They are easier to care for when planted in a self-watering planter.


African Violets

As a classic, blooming houseplant, African violets never go out of style. A happy plant blooms on and off in cycles throughout the year. For a violet to be happy indoors and to bloom well, it needs 12-14 hours of bright light; a spot 1-2 feet from a big east- or south-facing window is usually adequate. It needs eight hours of darkness to initiate blooms. Keep it in a room where the lights are not on late into the night. African violets grow in environments where most people feel comfortable such as typical indoor temperatures of 65-75 degrees. Fertilize it with a soluble African violet food, preferably one that doesn’t contain urea as a source of nitrogen because urea is known to burn its delicate roots. Dilute the fertilizers according to label rates or lower to help prevent salts from building up. Violets especially like self-watering planters so the water can seep up from a reservoir at the bottom of the pot. Regular watering from the top can promote root rot and cause leaf spot if the water is not room temperature. If you see a white crust building up on the surface of the soil, it’s probably excess fertilizer salts. To remove them, set a full watering can out overnight to allow it to reach room temperature and evaporate some of the chlorine. Remove the inner pot from its self-watering base and water from the top draining thoroughly to help leach the excess fertilizer out.


Known for its glorious, golden, fall color, ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) is from a prehistoric family of trees whose fan-shaped leaf patterns are found in fossils. It’s a long-lived, beautiful tree, but rather slow-growing, detracting from what should be great popularity. A young tree has a lanky, awkward shape and grows into a full, long-lived, shade tree with dependable, bright-golden fall color. There is nothing quite as majestic as a ginkgo-lined country driveway in the fall. It’s also a great specimen on the crown of a hill. Although it takes decades, a full-size tree canopy may reach 80 feet in height and about 30-40 feet wide. Some selections are smaller or more upright. One thing to be sure of is to plant only a male tree. Don’t buy random seedlings. Instead, look for male-only varieties such as Autumn Gold, Princeton Sentry, Gold Colonnade and others. Gardeners also love the tree because there is only one cleanup in the fall, as the tree sheds all of its leaves suddenly within a few days in late fall. Ginkgo grows in just about any soil type as long as it is well drained. Healthy trees are so long-lived you can count on them for your grandchildren!


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