December 2017
How's Your Garden?

How's Your Garden?

Storing Precious Bulbs and Roots

Bulbs and rhizomes such as gladiolus, dahlias, tropical gingers and caladiums do not have to be purchased year after year. They will sprout again next spring if dug now and stored in a dark, humid, cool room in a box of dry sand, peat or vermiculite through winter. A basement is ideal.

There is still time to dig these half-hardy bulbs, even though the nights have frosted. They store best if the foliage is dry. Just get them out of the ground before a hard freeze.

If storing in sand, avoid using sand from the beach; it is too fine and also salty. Instead, use builder’s sand or play sand with larger grains to allow better air circulation. Bury the bulbs in layers; space so they do not touch and use enough sand, peat or vermiculite to cover them completely.


Evergreen Ferns Outstanding in Winter


Evergreen ferns bring life to the forest floor in winter.

Beds in the shadow of pines or big shade trees look especially nice with stands of green winter ferns growing among the tree trunks, providing a nice coarse texture on the garden floor. Now is a good time to learn about these or others to get familiar with their winter look. (Check out the fern glades at the Dothan, Huntsville and Birmingham Botanical Gardens).

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is a native fern with 1- to 2-foot-long arching fronds. It forms a clump as it grows, spreading out underground stems so the clump gets larger each year, but keeping a nice, neat habit.

Another is Japanese holly fern (Cyrtomium falacatum), called holly fern due to the shape of its leaflets. It has arching fronds reaching about 1-1.5 feet long and 4-7 inches wide.

Japanese tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum) has heavier, dark-green, glossy fronds with a hairy midrib that look like they could be made of silk. Japanese tassel fern also grows in clumps with fronds growing 1-2 feet long and 10 inches wide, the widest of the ferns mentioned here.

Both tassel fern and holly fern, because they have leathery foliage, are somewhat tolerant of dry spells once established.

Although you can plant now to allow them to root well, be aware that they will look their best when growth begins next spring.

Fresh holiday greenery looks and smells wonderful.





Keep Greenery Green

Drink plenty of water and stay out of the hot sun. Sound familiar? The same advice that keeps us from wilting also keeps holiday-cut greenery from wilting.

If possible, place outdoor greenery away from the sun’s rays so wreaths and outdoor decorations will last longer.

Fortunately, cool weather helps preserve the foliage, too. If we get a warm spell, it helps to mist the foliage using a spray bottle of water.

You can also coat greenery (and your tree) with an antidesiccant, a spray-on product that coats the leaves to help keep them from losing moisture through their pores. Antidesiccant is common in the North to protect landscape plants in winter, but may be harder to find locally. If so, try online.



Portable Winter Home


A portable greenhouse is perfect for overwintering plants not quite cold-hardy enough to make it outside.

Portable greenhouses offer a convenient option for overwintering potted plants that can withstand a little chill, but not freezes. Sizable greenhouses (8-by-10) are made of a reinforced plastic cover that fits over a metal or fiberglass frame. They are easy to assemble and take down.

In Jefferson County, we overwinter our prized half-hardy and tropical potted plants (palm, succulents, lemongrass and citrus) inside two of these, with little or no added cold protection. When the temperature drops to 20 degrees, it helps to cover the plants with a frost cloth inside the greenhouse. If the weather is cloudy and the temperature stays below freezing for several days, you may need an additional source of heat such as an incandescent bulb.


Christmas Seeds

Don’t know what to give the gardener who has everything? How about seed packets, or a gift certificate for their local Quality Co-op or favorite catalog to pick out their own? Seeds are a lasting gift, too, as leftover seeds will store for another year or two in cool, dry conditions.

Those who like to try something new each year might especially enjoy browsing through some of the colorful heirloom seed catalogs such as Seed Savers Exchange and Baker Creek for familiar, old varieties and unusual ones that are fun to try.


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