Southern Gardening from 2017
Since the Christmas holiday season started last month, gardeners across Mississippi have been giving and receiving plants as gifts: poinsettias, begonias, cactuses and cyclamens -- oh my!
Oh my, indeed. Having plants inside during the winter adds beauty and a sense of charm and serenity. Herb plants also should be included as a gift choice, as they add good flavors to holiday meals.
Wasn't this past weekend’s cold something else? We've had some cold snaps already this winter but nothing like those low temps. That kind of cold brings our attention front and center to winter.
The previous warm weather had gotten many gardeners a little complacent, including me.
They seem to show up at my house every day, whether in sunny, rainy, warm or cold weather. They're relentless. I'm not referring to home-security sales folks; I'm talking about gardening catalogs.
These catalogs arrive in all shapes and sizes, in full color or black and white, and they all encourage us to make sure we're ready for spring. This spring marketing blitz is targeted at gardeners suffering from cabin fever. And the catalogs do succeed in us getting ready, maybe a little too ready if we succumb to their temptations.
Saucer magnolias and other flowering, deciduous magnolias start to peek out of their buds every spring, usually in late February or early March. The rush of colorful pinks is always a welcome sight.
So, imagine my surprise when the saucer magnolia at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi exploded into bloom three weeks early in mid-January.
So far, it's been an interesting spring season in January for our gardens. New Year's weekend, more than 13 inches of rain fell in my Ocean Springs garden, followed a week later by freeze-magedden. By late January, we were in the middle of really nice, moderate weather.
So what plants do you think are showing up at garden centers? If you guessed vegetable transplants, you’re correct. Last week, I even saw large tomato plants full of flowers for sale in 6-inch containers.
Except for a couple of cold nights, there's no doubt that I’ve been enjoying the mild winter we're having this year. It seems our landscape plants are also enjoying the moderate temperatures and flowering to show their approval.
But one thing I'm missing in the landscape is the variety of bronzy golds and reds our evergreen landscape shrubs display because of cold weather. Who doesn't appreciate the winter foliage of Japanese cleyera with its patina of rich burgundy? And what about my nandina, another great winter favorite?
I had an opportunity to attend the Gulf District American Rose Society Mid-Winter Workshop in Gonzales, Louisiana, in early February. It was a fantastic event that allowed me to meet lots of new people and catch up with a few old garden friends.
I also learned that I have had the same experiences and developed the same misperceptions that many home gardeners have with garden roses.
This past weekend was glorious and I appreciated puttering around my yard and landscape. It's not often that we can enjoy a Saturday and Sunday in February with temperatures in the mid-70s and bright sunny skies.
But I had to take a step back and remember that our last frost free date on the coast is about April 1, so I continued to transplant curly kale and Bright Lights Swiss chard in my EarthBoxes and harvested some fresh red and green romaine lettuce for salads.
This is the awards season, and the horticulture community won't be left out.
The Mississippi Medallion winners have been announced. This year's Outstanding Performance in the Landscape winners are Vermillionaire cuphea, Conversation Piece azalea, Patio Snacker cucumber and Japanese persimmon.
Flowering Annual/Perennial Category
You may know by now that I like to grow heirloom vegetables in my Ocean Springs garden. The stories that go along with these old plants are almost as good as their flavors.
My fascination with heirlooms even extends into the realm of flowers. I find heirlooms are a welcome change from the dizzying array of new plants with their kaleidoscope of colors that often go beyond my imagination.
Spring is always a busy time in my garden and landscape, as I'm sure it is in yours. It's when we start walking around and planning what we're going to plant this year, but it's also a time when landscape damage is most noticeable.
Azaleas have been magnificent this spring. I love seeing the mounds of pink, red and white flowers dotting our Mississippi landscapes. But to tell you the truth, I've been waiting for another of my favorite spring-flowering shrubs that doesn't get as much attention: the Indian hawthorn.
Now is the time to start planting annual color for summer. If I could plant only one group of annuals, it would have to be the Supertunias, as I can’t do without these flowering beauties.
For the past several years, I have watched and written about these fantastic garden performers. Whether used as spreading plants in the landscape or as container and hanging basket plants, Supertunias have performed well in Mississippi.
I don't claim to be an entomologist, but I do find the insects and spiders we see in our gardens to be engaging.
I ran into one interesting bug early one summer morning the first year I moved to Mississippi. I was strolling along my fence under the overhanging trees and walked right into the web. It was one of those moments when all of my latent karate moves were put on display.
One thing I dig about the summer season is the selection of annual color available for the garden and landscape.
I think most of my readers know I really like Supertunias. Besides their tremendous growth potential, I think what I like best are the flower shapes. There's something about a funnel-shaped flower that adds a little extra pizazz to the landscape.
One of my favorite things to do in the spring and early summer is visit my local garden centers. At this time of year, the sheer number of flowering annuals can easily result in sensory overload.
I wander through the aisles and benches almost in a hypnotic trance, and I always leave with a vehicle full of colorful beauty. By the time I get home, the color high has started to wear off, and I have to decide where to plant the new arrivals.
After being laid up for the last few weeks recovering from a knee replacement, I've really enjoyed finally getting out and picking up some heat-loving summer annual color. The first flat of bedding plants I put in the cart contained marigolds.
I know some gardeners may think marigolds are too easy, but that's exactly what I want from my summer landscape beds.
Driving around town this weekend, I enjoyed all the work fellow gardeners have been doing in their yards. I thought our early spring weather brought out the best in our landscapes, but then I saw it.
I couldn't believe my eyes, but there they were: mulch volcanoes.
It's been a couple of years since I've seen a real doozy of a mulch volcano, and I realized again what my duty has to be. I have to convince people that mulch volcanoes are bad for our trees.
It's all the rage to plant butterfly gardens in our home landscapes. This is especially true when we consider the Monarch butterfly, which is said to be under stress from disappearing habitats.
One of the best butterfly-attracting plants for the home landscape is butterfly weed, known botanically as Asclepias. Butterfly weed has a great trio of advantages: it is low maintenance, deer resistant, and attractive to Monarchs and other butterflies.
Now that our gardens and landscapes are heating up, it is the perfect time to plant annual flowering vinca. This beauty provides hot summer color you just can't beat.
Annual flowering vinca is a solid performer in Mississippi gardens, so I always make sure to plant some in my landscape.
Botanically speaking, annual flowering vinca is Catharanthus rosea. In garden centers, the pot tags sometimes call it Madagascar periwinkle.