January 2018
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Black Gold From the Trees

January usually presents the last chance to collect an abundance of leaves freshly fallen from nearby trees. These are free soil builders for garden beds and the vegetable garden.

Every fall and winter, my husband and I collect leaf bags around the neighborhood. We stash the bags in a pile, chopping the leaves for mulch throughout the growing season.

This fine mulch is especially helpful around flowers and vegetables where it quickly breaks down or returned to the soil by earthworms as black, nutrient-rich earthworm castings.

After a few years of this, our garden soil is a rich black and drains well, yet holds moisture effectively. Only the heaviest feeding crops such as tomato need light, supplemental fertilizer.

Gather the gift of leaves for your garden.


Nurture Fruit Trees

Some of the latest soil findings show the roots of many fruit tree species thrive in association with networks of fungi, or mycorrhizae, involved in nutrient uptake and other beneficial functions that are not completely understood. Holistic orchardists encourage this network of underground fungal threads by mulching around fruit trees with chipped branches less than 2.5 inches in diameter.

Don’t pile the mulch next to the tree trunks. Spread it around in a doughnut shape so none is touching the trunks. You can do this under existing trees or in the area of expected spread of newly planted ones.



The waxy flowers of hoya vine come as a nice surprise after a few years.

Hoya Lasts a Long Time

If you remember a thick-leaved, vining plant hanging in the windowsill at grandma’s house, chances are it was a hoya, or wax plant. The plants are so named because of their waxy leaves that stand up well to indoor conditions.

Similar to Christmas cactus, hoya will live for decades with just a little care. It likes indirect light and water only when the soil dries out.

After several years in the same container, a plant will become rootbound and surprise you with a cluster of waxy blossoms that live for several weeks.

Depending on the species, some of the hoya flowers can be very fragrant. However, when shopping for plants, it may be hard to find them identified so precisely that you can pick out which will have fragrant blossoms.

In the summer, you can move hoya outdoors on a porch where they will enjoy the tropical-like warmth, but avoid direct sun. Bring it indoors in the fall to protect it from freezing weather.


Offer food sources and shelter to enjoy resident and migratory birds such as this cedar waxwing in your landscape.




Birds Like the Local Menu

Birds depend on many of our endemic plants for sustenance.

Oak, willow, maple, goldenrod and milkweed host caterpillar species that are a crucial source of protein for birds, especially when they are breeding. Elderberry and serviceberry offer fruit during the breeding season, too.

Dogwood and spicebush help sustain songbirds flying south in the fall.

Cedar, dogwood, wax myrtle and holly provide berries for local birds through winter. The nuts of oak, hickory and beech provide protein and fat.

Native sunflower, aster and coneflower have tiny seeds for finches and sparrows.

Take a look around your house. Are there varieties of native trees, shrubs and perennials to sustain a diverse population of native birds? Have privet, honeysuckle, kudzu or other invasive plants choked out the plants that would naturally grow there?

Winter is a good time to clear out unwanted plants and items, and add new ones to the garden. If you want to encourage a variety of year-round and migratory birds, plant a variety of native plants.

The Audubon Society lists native plants for birds by ZIP code under the "Featured" menu at audubon.com.



Camellia blossoms are beautiful all by themselves.

Cutting Camellias

Elegant camellias – all they need for display is a simple vessel to hold water. Bowls or other shallow containers are perfect.

To gather blossoms, cut the flowers in the morning when they are the freshest. Shake the stem before cutting to eliminate blooms that are about to shatter. Leave the flower stem below the bloom long enough to reach well down below the water level of your display vessel, removing any leaves that would be below the water.

Keep the water replenished and freshly cut blooms will last for days.


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