April 2018
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?


Cherry tomatoes are the easiest tomato plants to grow, but they will need staking.

The Easiest Tomatoes

For gardeners happy with bite-sized fruit, cherry tomatoes are hard to beat through rain, heat and humidity. Due to their small size, they are sweeter because their sugar is more concentrated than in larger tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes generally grow fast and keep producing. They often just outgrow the environmental problems that can plague other tomatoes, especially by midsummer.

Husky Cherry Red is a beautiful, sturdy plant that doesn’t run out of control. A fun twist on cherry tomatoes is to grow Tumbling Tom that can cascade over the edge of a big urn or even a garden wall. Other popular cherry types such as Sun Gold, Sun Sugar, Sweet 100, Black Cherry, Chocolate Sprinkles, Sweet Million and Red or Yellow Pear need a tall stake or cage to keep the rambling vines off the ground.


Blooms That Say Good Morning

For the price of a packet of seeds, a gardener can cover a fence with yards and yards of weaving, blooming morning glory vines. Talk about a quick and beautiful way to cover some wire! Packets of seeds are easy to find at your local Quality Co-op or any place that sells flower seeds. Two seeds planted 6 inches apart side by side will easily cover 10-15 feet of fencing with beautiful blooms.

The hard seed will germinate quicker if you scratch them with a metal file or emery board and soak them overnight.

If the ground is too rich or moist, they may not bloom. The plants are so happy they just grow foliage. In this case, you can try growing the vine in a very large nursery container with the bottom cut out. Fill it with a mix of half potting soil and half sand, so the roots start out in soil that is not too rich.

The night-blooming morning glory, Moon Vine, lights up the night with a reflection of ambient night light and a wonderful fragrance. It also attracts hawk moths that are beautiful to watch, but beware because they are the adults of tomato and tobacco hornworms – if you are growing either of these.

Keep morning glories out of reach of livestock because the foliage and seeds can make them sick.

A mix of striking foliage is a way to help ward off a rainy season.


Foliage for Summer Color

Did your garden flowers melt out in all the rain last year? If that makes you shy about planting a flowerbed again, this year try some tougher foliage! The plant industry is continually introducing beautiful varieties with leaves so colorful and bright they can be even showier than flowers and usually stand up better to rainy weather.

Sweet potato vines, coleus, purple heart, Persian shield, purple fountain grass, ornamental peppers and colorful oxalis such as Iron Cross are a few of the easy-to-grow options. Coleus offers an especially wide range of colors from orange, lime green, purple, burgundy and variegated combos.


Alabama azalea looks and smells wonderful.

Alabama Azalea

After noticing the growing void of flowering shrubs in our landscapes, I am on a mission to highlight more shrubs offering colorful blooms. These bring a much welcomed and colorful complement to the growing number of evergreens in our landscapes.

Alabama azalea (Rhododendron alabamense) is an azalea native to north and central Alabama and other Piedmont areas of the Southeast. Alabama azalea blooms in early spring, just as the new foliage appears. It offers early pollen to the native bees and a wonderful fragrance for its gardener.

However, beware that all parts of the plant are poisonous – not that it would taste good or you would want to eat it!

It spreads by underground runners, slowly forming a nice thicket if planted in an area where deer don’t browse.

When our plant died back in the drought of 2007, we thought it was lost. However, as you can see, it came back strong from the underground runners.


Nice Idea for Shady Patio

A friend who is a potted-plant guru had this pretty combo of houseplants gracing a wall under the cover of a patio roof. Just combination of shade-loving houseplants will work for this by following the "thriller, filler, spiller" rule … showy, thriller plants for accent; filler plants to fill out the center; and trailing plants to spill over the edge.

In this container, the thriller is pink bromeliad, fillers are small ferns and syngonium, and the spiller is a variegated vinca.


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