Monday, October 29, 2012

How to prevent weeds in a vegetable garden

Dandelion seeds

Q. Do you have any ideas for preventing weeds in a vegetable garden?

A. Indeed, I do. First, make sure you pull weeds before they go to seed. This requires diligence. If weeds go to seed, the problem is perpetuated.

When you pull weeds, don't drop them on the ground. They may take root again. Instead, put them in your compost pile.

Mulch your garden generously. Mulch not only prevents weeds from germinating, it also conserves moisture and moderates soil temperature. When organic mulch decomposes, it improves the quality of your soil. Good organic mulch material includes straw from harvested grains, chopped leaves, grass clippings, shredded paper (don't use paper printed with colored ink), and peanut hulls. You can also mulch with finished compost.

Lay strips of used carpeting between your raised beds. It allows water to permeate through it, smothers weeds and provides a cleaner surface for walking. Old vinyl floor covering works well, too, but it doesn't allow water to soak through.

Return to

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Southern Wood Fern (aka Florida Shield Fern) For The Southern Garden

Dryopteris ludoviciana
Take a stroll in southern forests draped with Spanish Moss and you'll likely come upon Southern Wood Fern. Its glossy, dark, evergreen fronds make it one of the most beautiful of our native ferns. Its moderate height and adaptability make it one the most useful for the southern garden.

The botanical name is Dryopteris ludoviciana (pronounced dry-OP-ter-iss loo-dough-vik-ee-AH-nuh) which literally means "oak fern from Louisiana." According to the USDA PLANTS database, its range is from North Carolina and Kentucky southward to Florida and westward to Texas. It's usually found growing near the coast or in the coastal plain.

Southern Wood Fern is also known as Aspidium ludovicianum, Dryopteris floridana and Nephrodium floridanum. Guess why? It's found in more places in Florida than in Louisiana. So another common name is Florida Shield Fern.

You don't need to live near the coast to grow Florida Shield Fern. It performs well in USDA zones 6 to 10.

Choose a planting site in full sun to partial shade. Florida Shield Fern prefers moist soil, particularly if planted in full sun. It will tolerate dry soil periodically if planted in partial shade. (Take care not to over-water.) Soil should be high in organic matter and well-drained with pH between 6.1 to 7.5. Take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Follow the recommendations. Such a site as described probably won't require tilling.

Florida Shield Fern grows to 48 inches high and up to 24 inches across. Dig planting holes about 18 inches to 24 inches apart. The holes should be no deeper than that of the root balls. Water the plants in their pots, then plant them, watering more as you go. When planted, the tops of the root balls should be visible; do not bury them under soil.

Florida Shield Fern Fern is deer resistant. It's great in massed plantings and for naturalizing as a ground cover. Include it in fern collections, native plant collections, shade gardens and woodland gardens.

Return to Ferns at

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

About the Eastern Hay-scented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula)

Eastern Hay-scented fern, is a marvelous native plant for the shade garden. The fragrant, lacy green fronds turn yellow in fall and may linger through winter. Fronds are triangular to oval shaped and deeply divided, giving it a lacy appearance. Yes, the aroma is reminiscent of hay.

Its botanical name is Dennstaedtia punctilobula (pronounced "den-STET-ee-uh punk-tih-LOH-bew-luh"). Punctilobula refers to the dotted lobes. The genus was named by Andre Michaux in honor of August Wilhelm Dennstedt (1776–1826), German botanist, physician, and director of the Belvedere Garden. His works include Weimar's Flora: Pflanzen Mit Deutlichen Geschlechtern (1800), Schlussel Zum Hortus Indicus Malabaricus (1818), and Hortus Belvedereanus (1821).

Michaux, who explored extensively in North America, would have found Eastern hay-scented fern practically anywhere he traveled. The USDA PLANTS database shows Dennstaedtia punctilobula thrives from Quebec to Georgia, and westward to Missouri and Arkansas. Another species, Dennstaedtia bipinnata, is native to Florida, the West Indies, Central America, and south to Bolivia.

Hay-scented fern normally grows in loose clumps 15 to 30 inches tall and spreading to 24 inches. However it spreads via underground rhizomes and may colonize an area. It prefers partial to full shade in moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter with pH ranging from 5.1 to 6.5. Once established, hay-scented fern is rather drought tolerant. It is hardy from USDA climate zones 3 into 8.

Little soil preparation is needed before planting. Moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter shouldn't need tilling, especially if in a woodland setting. If the soil requires amendment to increase the level of organic matter, some tilling might be required. Remove all traces of weeds. Collect a soil sample and take it to the nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. Follow the instructions provided.

Dennstaedtia is easily and economically established by planting rhizome cuttings. My Youtube video on Planting Hay-scented Ferns demonstrates how to do it. After planting, apply a thin layer of organic mulch to conserve moisture and discourage weeds.

Gardeners troubled by deer and rabbits will be glad to know that this fern is critter resistant. Similarly, hay-scented fern is insect and disease resistant.

Hay-scented fern is ideal as a ground cover for xeriscaping, naturalizing, shade gardens and woodland walks, fragrant gardens, fern collections, and native plant collections. Suitable companion plants include Astilbe, Chrysogonum, Galium, Hosta, Heuchera, Hyacinthoides, Sanguinaria, Scilla, Selaginella, and ferns with similar requirements.

Return to Ferns at

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Must Have Plants: Autumn Fern

Autumn Fern - Dryopteris erythrosora

Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.

Name(s): Dryopteris erythrosora, Aspidium erythrosorum, Dryopteris bulligera, Dryopteris distantipinna, Dryopteris linyingensis, Dryopteris oblongipinnula, Autumn Fern, Japanese Shield Fern

Flower Color: None

Bloom Time: None

Foliage: Evergreen, burgundy to green.

Height/Spread: 18 inches to 24 inches x 18 inches to 24 inches.

Climate Zones: 5, 6, 7, 8

Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade.

Soil Condition: Well-drained, pH 6.1 to 7.5

Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, colorful foliage.

Uses: Massed planting, naturalizing, fern collections, Asian gardens, shade gardens, woodland gardens.

Return to Ferns at

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Must Have Plants: Aster 'Wood's Blue', 'Wood's Purple', 'Wood's Pink'

Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.
Name(s): Aster dumosus 'Wood's Blue', Symphyotrichum dumosum, Aster dumosus var. dodgei, Aster dumosus var. strictior, Symphyotrichum dumosum var. dodgei, Aster novi-belgii

Flower Color:Blue

Bloom Time: Mid-summer to early fall

Foliage: Herbaceous.

Height/Spread: 24 inches to 30 inches x 24 inches to 36 inches.

Climate Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Condition: Average, well-drained, pH 5.1 to 6.5

Features: Deer resistant, attracts butterflies.

Uses: Massed planting, butterfly gardens, perennial borders.

Return to

Behind A Garden Wall: Aldridge Botanical Gardens

Aldridge Gardens lake vista

Aldridge Gardens is described as a "hidden jewel in the middle of Hoover, Alabama's fifth largest city." Formerly the home of Eddie and Kay Aldridge, it was donated by them to the city as a public garden. Set among woodland, the 30-acre garden provides a place of rest, reflection and recreation for its visitors.

Eddie Aldridge is a retired nurseryman. He and his father, Loren, operated Aldridge Nursery in Birmingham for about 40 years. Among their plant interests was the Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), now the State Wildflower of Alabama. Their crowning achievement was the discovery and marketing of the 'Snowflake' Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'), a chance seedling with doubled flowers. Naturally, Aldridge Gardens has a large hydrangea collection.

Sadly, Aldridge Garden Shop and Nursery no longer exists. The property was sold in 2000, and, to Eddie's chagrin, became the site of a Walgreens store. He had hoped for something better like a Class A office building.

I expect that Eddie is consoled in seeing his estate developed as a fine botanical garden. Follow me to see what grows beyond the Aldridge Garden wall.

Just beyond the gatehouse, you'll stroll across the entrance plaza with benches dominated by a sculpture, "On The Nature Of Building" by Ted Metz. If you're waiting for someone to join you, this is the place to do it.

From the beginning of your visit you'll see hydrangeas aplenty. Oakleaf Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs native to woodlands in the Southeastern United States. They can grow to be quite large, up to 25 feet tall and twice as wide. Bark is cinnamon-colored and flaky. Enormous white flower panicles, up to 12 inches long, appear in summer and turn pink as they age. Oakleaf Hydrangeas have large, rough leaves that resemble Red Oak foliage. Fall color is spectacular. I visited in early October, so the color was only beginning to develop.

Aldridge's camellia collection featuring over 40 varieties will delight enthusiasts. Sasanquas begin the show in September. Several re-blooming azaleas enhanced the display.

The Metz work is not the only piece of outdoor sculpture in the garden. Several by Frank Fleming, like "Along for the Ride", amuse visitors (especially children).

A half-mile walking trail meanders around the 5 acre lake, and offers pleasant vistas and tasteful seating to enjoy them. Tropical plants like this Ginger Lily (Hedycium gardneri) flank a small stream that feeds the lake. Dozens of bird species may be spotted in the area, especially during their seasonal migrations. The stocked lake is also home to other aquatic species. A boat house overlooking the water is a popular spot for resting, snacking and watching wildlife.

The Shade Garden and Arbor Garden with its evergreen clematis, also feature hydrangeas, ferns, Japanese maples, and surprises around every turn. One little boy surprised us several times coming around turns, his mother in pursuit.

Which reminds me that Aldridge Gardens is a fine place to bring children for outings. Classes and workshops are often held in a large pavilion. The day we visited children were invited to a hands-on experience with bugs and worms, and a plant sale was in progress. Near the Wildflower Meadow an eerie scaffold remained, probably from a recent program on A Native American Experience.

The Aldridge home, overlooking the lake, now houses the Eddie and Kay Aldridge Art and Historical Collection Museum. The landscaping includes many other species of native plants such as a magnificent Needle Palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix), Hearts-A-Burstin' (Euonymus americanus), and a White Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia leucophylla) among other species in the bog garden.

Residents in the Birmingham area should visit Aldridge Gardens often. Those who don't live nearby should know it's well worth the drive. Mine was over 12 hours round-trip, and I'll do it again! Aldridge Gardens has a lot to offer. Every season brings new pleasures, so visit often and see what grows behind that garden wall.

Return to

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Stalking The Bloody Dock

Rumex sanguineus - Bloody Dock

One summer during college, I was short on cash and food, but adventurous. Euell Gibbons's books on stalking wild edible plants inspired me to forage. The first greens on my hunt list included sorrel (Rumex spp.) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). They were delicious when boiled like spinach. I never imagined that one day I'd promote a Rumex as an ornamental plant.

It's called Rumex sanguineus (pronounced ROO-mex san-GWIN-ee-us). Common names include Bloody Dock, Red-veined Dock, Bloodwort because blood-red veins accentuate the wavy, rich green leaves. The specific name, sanguineus, obviously refers to the blood-red veins. Always curious, I'd like to know the derivation of the name, Rumex. I've found no authority for that. But I wouldn't be surprised if some species of sorrel was known to be a favorite of ruminates.

Bloody Dock is grown primarily for the foliage, though tall flower spikes bear small blooms and fruit. Flowers bloom spring to mid-summer. Mature height is 8 inches to 12 inches.

Rumex sanguineus is a perennial plant native to Europe, northern Africa, and southwest Asia. It prefers full sun in USDA climate zones 4 to 9. Plant in average, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing. The results will specify any necessary soil amendments.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 10 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. If your soil sample report indicates the need for fertilizer, avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 12 inches to 18 inches apart. Small plants may be planted closer together. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Water the plants in the pots, then drain. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Bloody Dock is marvelous in perennial borders and container gardens. It self-sows readily. In addition to its ornamental value, Bloody Dock is also edible. The young leaves are best. Use them as cooked greens or for extra color in salads. Rumex sanguineus should have a place in your vegetable garden, too. You'll soon enjoy stalking the Bloody Dock for dinner.

Return to

Must Have Plants: Ajuga 'Burgundy Glow'

Ajuga 'Burgundy Glow'

Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.
'Burgundy Glow' is one of our favorite Ajugas. Deep blue flower spikes in spring are held above variegated foliage of green, burgundy shades, and white. The dense mat suppresses weeds, and serves as an effective lawn substitute. We like it planted in borders, beneath taller perennials, in containers and rock gardens.

Name(s): Ajuga reptans 'Burgundy Glow', 'Burgundy Lace', Bugleweed, Creeping Bugleweed, Carpet Bugleweed, Carpenter's Herb, Sicklewort, Middle Comfrey

Flower Color:Blue

Bloom Time: Early spring

Foliage: Herbaceous, green/burgundy/white variegated.

Height/Spread: 4 inches to 6 inches x indefinitely.

Climate Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Sun Exposure: Full sun to light shade.

Soil Condition: Rich, well-drained to dry, pH 6.1 to 7.5

Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, low maintenance, tolerates mild foot traffic.

Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, ground cover, lawn substitute.

Return to Ajuga at

Monday, October 1, 2012

How To Dig A Root Ball For Transplanting.

Q. I wanted to transplant already established juniper.  It has overgrown the sidewalk and needs to be removed.  I wanted to transplant that to a completely different area.  Do you have any hints on digging out the roots from a plant that is already established?

A. Mature shrubs can be difficult to transplant. The biggest problem is weight. A large root ball can weigh several hundred pounds. Another problem is trying to retain soil around the roots. Wrapping the root ball with burlap is the most popular method of keeping the roots and soil intact. If your shrub is very large, you should contact a local nursery for assistance.

If you plan to move it yourself, you'll need:
  • A sharp garden spade,
  • A large square of burlap cloth (never plastic!),
  • A small box of 12 gauge 2-1/4 inch nails.
It's best to dig shrubs and trees during winter dormancy. Junipers, being evergreen, don't go fully dormant, but it's still better to dig from late fall to early spring.

To transplant your shrub, you'll need to dig the roots with soil intact in the form of a ball. Then you'll need to wrap the ball in burlap. Secure the burlap tightly around the ball by pinning the fabric with nails. It's kind of like wrapping the soil ball in a big diaper.

Begin by determining the necessary size of the root ball. Keep in mind that most feeder roots will be near the outer circumference of the leafy portion of the shrub. If the shrub is very large, the root ball will be very large. In order to keep the root ball to a manageable size, some of the feeder roots must be sacrificed. As a rule of thumb, the radius of the root ball should be 11 inches for every 1 inch of the diameter of the trunk. Measure the trunk about 6 inches above the soil line.

Begin by removing any weeds, grass, fallen leaves, mulch, etc. from around the shrub.  Mark a circle in the soil to designate the size of the root ball, as determined above. Scrape the soil clean inside the circle.

If the soil is loose, stomp on it all the way around the shrub to compact it. During the entire process of stomping and digging, take care not to damage the bark of the trunk.

Following the circle, dig a shallow trench around the shrub with the corner of a spade. Then from the trunk of the shrub, begin forming the ball inside the circular trench. The ball will slope outward and downward from the trunk. It's like gently carving a ball out of soil. You will probably contact roots as you work. You'll have to cut through them, but be careful not to crack the ball. Shape it little by little. Don't be impatient.

When you've shaped the top half of the ball, begin gently digging under the ball as you shape the underside. When you've shaped about three-fourths of the ball, begin forcing the spade under it at an angle. You'll cut some roots. Always be careful not to destroy the ball. Again, be patient. Work slowly and carefully.

Once the ball is separated from the rest of the soil, gently tip the plant to one side and work the burlap under the ball. If the soil is holding together well enough, you may be able to lift it and have someone slide the burlap under the ball. Or you may have to use the spade to lift the ball onto the burlap.

Return to