Our gardening experts share their top secrets.
Editor's Best Tips


Blueberries That Thrive
If I could grow only one type of fruit, it would definitely be blueberries. I have three good reasons for saying that. First, if you have acid soil, blueberries are easy to grow and very productive. Second, if you don't eat the berries, the birds will. (I have seen five different species in my bushes at one time.) Third, unlike some other fruits that are messy and ungainly, blueberries make excellent ornamental shrubs. Their leaves turn brilliant scarlet and crimson in late fall and may even last into winter.

Here is your blueprint for success. Give blueberries full sun and moist, well-drained, acid soil (pH 4.5 to 5.5) that contains lots of organic matter, such as peat, chopped leaves, and composted manure. Plant each bush slightly high in the hole so that the top 1?2 inch of the root-ball rests above the soil surface. Then mulch around the base with several inches of pine straw or shredded bark.

In the Upper and Middle South, you should plant Northern highbush blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum) such as 'Bluecrop,' 'Bluejay,' 'Darrow,' and 'Herbert.' This species is self-pollinating. Elsewhere, plant the more heat-tolerant rabbiteye blueberries (V. ashei) such as 'Beckyblue,' 'Climax,' 'Delite,' and 'Tifblue.' These selections need cross-pollination to set fruit, so plant at least two different ones.

How can you keep birds from eating all the berries? Try hanging reflective tape in the bushes or covering them with nylon netting.

If that doesn't work, put "Freebird" in your boom box, and turn it up loud.


Heat-Loving Flowers
There are plenty of easy blooms that are happy in hot weather and will give you just what you want--color. 'Knock Out' rose is one of the best. This shrub produces multitudes of cherry red blooms from spring through fall. For a big show, plant three or five en masse. Tip: Save money by buying this plant in a smaller 1-gallon size; it grows fast.

Want some other options? Lantana is a favorite and looks great in flowerbeds and containers. Choose from a range of colors that include white, pink, purple, yellow, and orange. Accent the petals with colorful foliage. Heat-loving purple heart (Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea') and chartreuse 'Cuban Gold' duranta are some bright choices to consider.

Low-growing Profusion Hybrid zinnias provide an ample show of color with blooms in shades of yellow, orange, pink, and white. Look for some of the great new purple coneflower hybrids including yellow-blooming 'Sunrise' and orange-flowering 'Sunset.' Complement these choices with 'Goldsturm' yellow coneflower to create a warm welcome for friends and family. Verbenas, such as rose-colored 'Saint Paul' and 'Homestead Purple,' are also reliable favorites and love to be in the sunshine--just like you.


Simple Arrangements
I love to enjoy flowers indoors--even if it's only a single wonderful bloom. Annuals such as cosmos, zinnias, and petite sunflowers provide plenty to cut. Plus they're easy, inexpensive, and flourish very quickly. Because of limited garden space, I grow these plants in big containers outside my back door.

I plant seeds after the last frost. About three weeks later, I start more pots so there are continuous blooms throughout summer. As the first round wears out, I pull out old plants and do the last seeding for fall flowers, usually in mid-July. This gives me plenty to bring in through autumn's warm days.

Some tricks I've learned along the way: Purchase extra packets of seeds in spring so you can plant more in the summer; the selection is better when you buy early. Add moisture-retaining polymer granules to the potting mix prior to planting to help keep the soil moist longer between waterings. During hot weather, water early in the morning until it flows from the pot's drainage holes.


When Not To Plant
As nuts as I am about plants, I have to admit that sometimes gracing a space with flora is not the best solution. Case in point: As part of a pool deck, an awkward, tight spot which is close to a downspout, stays wet and is constantly trampled by both two- and four-footed species. Even the most durable of plants would be destined for a very short, sad life here.

Solution: Don't plant. Opt for good-looking stones such as black Mexican pebbles, and call it a day. If the space needs a little softening, strategically place a pretty container billowing with loose foliage, such as this asparagus fern. Make sure the plant you choose is compatible with the light conditions of the area.

To lay the pebbles like a pro, excavate 3 to 4 inches of soil, and cover the area with a permeable landscape cloth. Do not use black plastic, as it will just make your drainage problem worse. Fill the area with stones. Now you can spend your time gardening where your efforts and dollars will really pay off.

"Editors' Best Tips" is from the April 2006 issue of Southern Living.