October 2017
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Herbs for Winter

Hardy perennial herbs you can plant now include rosemary, chives, thyme, oregano and sage. These will overwinter in the ground or in containers in a bright, sunny spot. They are handy to have for Thanksgiving dishes. These core herbs will form the backbone of a nice kitchen herb garden. Parsley is also winter-hardy, but will need to be pulled next spring after it blooms.

Replacement Trees

The effects of last year’s drought became fully apparent this spring and summer when big trees did not leaf out or died back gradually, and evergreens just turned more and more brown. Hard hit were pines, magnolia, Leyland cypress, cryptomeria and many deciduous trees whose roots were already compromised. Sometimes trees did not die directly from the lack of rain but by disease or insect infestation brought on through weakness caused by the drought. Fall is a good time to replace dead plants because their roots will grow, but the tops will be dormant through the cooler months. When considering replacement ideas, look around your yard and neighborhoods to see what plants fared best during the drought. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System bulletin ANR-1336, "Drought Tolerant Landscapes," for Alabama offers suggestions for all parts of the state.

Fall Flowers Play Important Role


Late-summer- and fall-flowering perennials provide food for migrating birds and butterflies.


Unless it’s brought to our attention, we may not realize how critical flowers for pollen and nectar are this time of year as birds, butterflies and other insects prepare for winter. While hummingbirds, and monarchs and sulphur butterflies all migrate south, they depend on nectar to help provide fuel for their long flights. By planting long-living, fall-blooming perennial flowers, you will provide repeated food sources for winged visitors year after year with little trouble. Now is a good time to look for plants, either at your favorite garden center or via mail order. There are several species of fall-blooming asters, sunflowers and goldenrods native or well-adapted to our area. The salvias are a big group that includes species that bloom in the fall or start earlier, but continue through fall. Other good choices include hardy ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum), helenium (Helenium autumnale) and showy sedum (Sedum spectabile). Find a permanent location for these as they will return each year. Beware that swamp sunflower (Helianthus simulans) spreads vigorously via underground stems, so sprouts need to be pulled up in the spring to contain it.

Little Pansy, Big Results

The smallest member of the pansy group, Johnny Jump Ups, might be the toughest of the group and also the easiest to grow. The small plants become loaded with blooms and continue longer in to summer than larger flowered pansies. They are also quite cold-hardy, usually surviving our winters if planted now. If using a chemical fertilizer on any pansy, read the fine print and look for ammonium nitrate as the source of nitrogen. Johnny Jump Ups and all pansies respond best to fertilizer that is at least three-fourths nitrate-based (look for "ammonium nitrate" or "nitrate nitrogen" in the fine print of the ingredients).

Garden Trophies

I don’t hunt but every fall I have trophies. At the end of each season, I gently dig some of our pepper, eggplant, tomatoes and other plants to inspect the roots looking for signs of root knot nematodes or other problems, and otherwise evaluating their size and health. Then I hang selected masses of roots on a fence to enjoy for a while. These are my garden trophies, reminding me of how important it is to continually encourage healthy soil for healthy roots and a top-notch harvest.

Get Rid of Squash Bugs

Squash bugs will seek winter shelter in plant debris. (Credit: JuliScalzi istock)


Squash bugs are quick to ruin a crop of squash or pumpkins. To help delay or prevent their appearance next spring, it is important to clean up the squash and pumpkin patches this fall. Remove all vines and rake away mulches and debris under the plants. If you can burn the debris safely and legally, do so, or gather it in plastic bags for the trash. This will help remove their overwintering sites. Squash bugs are severely damaging to squash, cucumbers and pumpkins because they inject a toxic saliva that kills the leaves where they feed. Next spring, you can delay them by covering plants with a fine insect cover until flowering begins. Take advantage of the insect’s habit of seeking shelter under cover by laying down some boards, or big cabbage or palmetto leaves, or other such cover to attract large numbers where you can easily crush them later.


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