July 2004: Garden Letters from Readers
Variety is important in all things--from gardening to breakfast.
When I was a kid, my mother fixed me scrambled eggs for breakfast almost daily for years. Now, decades later, I can't stand scrambled eggs. This just goes to show how important variety is in all things, including gardening. As long as I can remember, people who wanted blooms for shade have depended on impatiens. They're great flowers but don't come in blue. After a decade or so of planting the same thing, you ought to try something new. I have just the thing--a summer annual called wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri). This plant loves the heat. From spring until fall, it's smothered with flowers in blue, purple, rose, pink, or white. Wishbone flower does great in borders, pots, and window boxes--just keep the soil moist. Duchess excels in shade, while the trailing Summer Wave Hybrids like partial sun or shade. If you'll give them a try this summer, I'll vow to give scrambled eggs another chance.
Q: I recently planted some mondo grass, and the tips of the leaves are turning yellow. I water it with a soaker hose every two to three days for 30 to 40 minutes. What is causing the problem?
A: If mondo grass is planted in sun, it is subject to sunburn, and you'll have to move it. Another possible cause of trouble is mucky soil. Mondo grass likes well-drained soil. If these aren't the problems, try feeding the plant with a water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer every couple of weeks until it has a nice green color.
Q: I've been eyeing ornamental grasses for a while and would like to plant some. Do you have any tips on which ones to buy for this area and how to get them started?
A: With few exceptions, ornamental grasses like to have plenty of sun and well-drained soil. They are pest free, drought tolerant, and simple to grow. Among the better choices for you and other readers who live in the Lower South are the many forms of pennisetum, which is sometimes called fountain grass. Try pampas grass, giant reed (Arundo donax), switch grass (Panicum virgatum), and assorted kinds of miscanthus such as maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Gracillimus') and zebra grass (M. sinensis 'Zebrinus') as well.
Q: My poppies and foxgloves have already bloomed this year. Will the plants reseed themselves?
A: These flowers may reseed on their own, as long as your garden beds are unmulched. (Mulch keeps many seeds from sprouting.) You can also collect the seeds, sprinkle them lightly over the soil surface, and use a hand cultivator to gently scratch them in. The foxglove seeds should germinate this summer. The poppies probably won't sprout until next spring, so you might want to wait until fall to sow them.
Q: We're building a house on a lot without any trees. Can you recommend some fast-growing shade trees that we could include in our landscaping plan?
A: Be very careful when choosing fast-growing trees, because many are short-lived, messy, weak-wooded, and have invasive roots. Avoid weeping willow, silver maple, hybrid poplar, sycamore, and mulberry. Good trees that grow quickly include 'Natchez' crepe myrtle, Chinese elm, red oak, red maple, sawleaf zelkova, Chinese pistache, tulip poplar, 'Autumn Purple' white ash, and bald cypress.
Tip of the Month
An easy way to grow frost-tender plants that have tubers or bulbs is to start them in pots, which can be set in the ground or placed in larger containers. Make sure they have drainage holes to prevent rot. The pots protect the plants from voles and are easy to take up in the fall and bring inside for winter storage.
Mount Holly, North Carolina
Tips of the Month are ideas readers say work for them. We do not test them. Submit tips on a postcard with your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address to Garden Tips, Southern Living, P.O. Box 523, Birmingham, AL 35201 or by e-mail to email@example.com. For each tip published you will receive $25.
Browse through our Garden Letters Library where you can easily click through hundreds of common and not-so-common gardening questions from other Southern Living readers.