- Cullman, Alabama

February 25, 2014

SOUTHERN STYLE: Growing things

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

— As we look back on last week’s snow it seems almost impossible that it was predicted to be 69 later this week. Weather fluctuating like that makes it hard to calculate when our favorite flowering shrubs and trees will bloom, or when we’ll see the buds of grandmother’s pass along daffodils or tulips breaking through their protective sheaths.

I used to be able to predict when my hydrangeas or iris would bloom within a week, sometimes within a few days of their appearing. Now, I wouldn’t even hazard a guess.

The best thing to do if you have to prepare for a late freeze it to cover your shrubs if they have swelling buds. I use old sheets, tarps; even newspapers weighted down with rocks or brick will work on bulbs. You can cover plants that have emerging blooms with the plastic pots from your nursery.

Clear or black plastic will work, as well as garbage bags or large pieces of cardboard. The important thing to remember is to uncover them so that they won’t burn up if left under plastic of any kind when the sun comes out later in the day.

This might sound like a lot of trouble but it can save your blooms for the whole spring on hydrangeas and small trees, like a young tulip tree or flowering almond bushes.

As the weather warms up and you are fairly sure that all danger of frost has passed, you might want to add some bone meal to your blub beds. Ideally this should have been done in the fall, but adding this essential nutrient very early spring will still help some.

Beds of hardy ferns will appreciate a dose of Epsom salts judiciously watered in around their roots. This will help to green-up other plants such as ivy, hosta, boxwoods and roses.

If  you prune your roses early in the season, and noticed swelling buds or new leaves, give them a round of rose fertilizer, fish emulsion or a good liquid fertilizer that contains some fungicide and insecticide.

The Bayer brand that is watered in is very effective and not as dangerous as some sprays.

If you do have to spray, cover your whole body to prevent the chemicals from penetrating your skin. After all, they were designed to penetrate the skin of insects in order to eradicate them. Covering hands, feet, face and neck are very important.

Remember, never spray when the wind is blowing even a little bit. This will not only cause you to waste spray, but the likelihood of getting less of it where you want it to go, and of getting it on your skin is much more likely in a breeze.

Pruning is easier before plants put on new foliage mainly because you can see where you are cutting. Pruning not only makes a plant neater, it encourages new growth.

Some of the most versatile bulbs you can plant this spring are caladiums. Often over-looked in favor of blooming plants, caladiums are some of the showiest plants you can use in your garden.

Blooms, especially those which grace the garden early in the spring are faded by summer’s first humid days. Summer blooming perennials usually need the sun, but caladiums, the ladies of the garden, look wonderful in the garden from late spring until frost.

They come in exotic colors varying from the most delicate, almost porcelain looking pinks, to vivid reds and wildly patterned green leaves up to 24 inches long.

Caladiums make an excellent choice for containers, and they can take some sun, as long as they are watered well and not placed in a hot western or southern exposure. The sun, if given in moderation, will actually make the colors more vivid.

Caladiums respond well to fertilizing, and can become even bigger than normal if given an application several times during the growing season.

 Caladiums pair well with hosta, ivy, hardy ferns, maidenhair ferns, and as an edging in front of boxwoods or other evergreen shrubs and as  background plantings at the back of your monkey grass edging.  

Although caladiums are annuals, they are well worth the effort they take each year. They more than double their size, offer continuous  color, require no pruning or deadheading and are not insect prone, with the exception of being enticing to slugs. This problem can be dealt with by sprinkling some Epsom salt around the base of the plants. It will not only deter the pests, but will fertilize the plants.

Plant your caladiums after all danger of frost has passed, and the ground temperature stabilized at around 50 degrees.

Impatiens and other shade loving perennials will play nicely with caladiums, but the fancy leaves will outshine them, so give them room to spread out.

 Take time to explore the wide variety of leaf patterns and colors. Mix the pinks with the mosaic green/white leaves and the reds with the spotted leaves. The effect is amazing!