January Gardening Chores for the Deep South

Although we have had some bitter cold weather this Winter and last, we still experience intermittent warm spells during the Winter in Alabama and Georgia. During these warm spells is when I like to get my outdoor chores done.

If you haven't already, clean up the garden before you do anything else. Debris from dead plants allowed to stay on the ground can be a haven for insect pests and mice. Exceptions to this are seed heads you know to be favored by songbirds, such as Black-eyed Susan.

Planting can be done year round in the South, but Fall and Winter are the best planting times for shrubs and trees in areas of the South that suffer brutally hot and dry summers. Planting of azaleas and camellias is best done in the Fall, to give the shrubs time to dig their roots into their new home before having to endure hot days with no rain. You can still plant them now, but you will need to water once a week if it doesn't rain.

Pruning of summer blooming shrubs and trees can be done anytime during the Winter and early Spring. Doing it on a warm day in January will give your garden a neater appearance and free you up for planting early Spring crops when the time comes.

There are actually some vegetable seeds we can sow now. Sugar Snap Peas and Snow peas will germinate in cool soil. If you plant them now, you can enjoy a crisp snack before warm season crops can even be planted.

January is the best time to plant bare root roses. They are available in most local garden centers now, or you can purchase them online.

If you are anything like me, you have some shrubs and trees that you planted in the wrong spot. January is an excellent time for moving those to a better location. 

Anytime is a good time to eliminate invasive privet and Japanese honeysuckle from the garden, but it's easier to do in the Winter. Both privet and Japanese honeysuckle are evergreen and growing amongst many deciduous plants, so they are easy to spot. With all the rain we've had recently, you might have an easier time pulling up small plants, but be ready to clip them off low to the ground if you can't pull them. Then spray the remaining stump with a good strong weedkiller. Wear gloves for this task, and watch out for deciduous vines intermingled with the privet and honeysuckle that could be poison ivy.

Wishing for that First Fall Frost

I can't help but look forward to that 1st frost of Fall. I'm embarrassed to admit that the weeds have truly overtaken my garden. What I intended to be a paradise of fragrant and colorful flowers has turned out to be a tangled mess of ugly vines and weedy plants with a few colorful beauties mixed in. The first frost will kill all the ugly things, for which I will be very grateful.

But also, that frost will make some plants better. Turnip and mustard greens are not really tasty until touched by that crisp first frost. Many of our shrubs and trees known for their vivid Fall colors will not color up until nights turn cold.

Itea Merlot in Fall

One of my favorite fall chores is riding the lawnmower around chopping up all the leaves before they are sucked up into the bagger. I then spread them out all over my planting beds. Winter rains (I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they come!) will help the leaves to rot and break down, enriching the garden soil.

Cooler temperatures in the Fall are absolutely perfect for planting and transplanting. Perennials, trees, and shrubs establish much better when put in the ground right before winter. Down South where we are, the ground doesn't freeze, so plant roots continue to grow all winter while topgrowth takes a rest. During the winter, plants can get their roots down deep into the ground to reach water and nutrients before having to expend any energy growing new leaves, stems, and flowers.

But also, that frost will make some plants better. Turnip and mustard greens are not really tasty until touched by that crisp first frost. Many of our shrubs and trees known for their vivid Fall colors will not color up until nights turn cold.

Cooler temperatures make gardening more enjoyable. Last week, the outdoor temperature was 96 and the humidity was so high that our heat index was over 100 degrees, so everything I had to do out there was a real chore. This morning, the cool breeze reminds me of my favorite gardening weather. When temperatures are cool enough to wear long sleeves in the garden, I will think I'm in Heaven. There's just something about working in the garden when it's too cool to sweat that I just love.

While others might dread the cold weather, not me. Is it wrong for me to wish for that first frost of Fall? I don't think so.

Hydrangea arborescens: Wildlife Value of the Smooth Hydrangea

If you have seen the lovely Annabelle Hydrangea, you love her. Hardy, easy to grow, and beautiful in summer, Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' is probably the most versatile hydrangea you can grow in the garden.

Large voluptuous white blooms appear in early summer, despite the severity of your winter or any pruning that might have been done too late, because this hydrangea blooms on new growth. Additionally, Our native hydrangea arborescens, will bloom again in late summer if spent blooms are removed.
Hydrangea arborescens, also known as smooth hydrangea, is native to the Eastern United States. Annabelle is a selection known for its particularly large white blooms that can be up to 10 inches across.

Hydrangea Sphinx Moth
 photo from www.bugguide.net

You might already know the beautiful attributes of Hydrangea arborescens, but did you know Annabelle Hydrangea also has wildlife value? Here at Shady Gardens, we try to do all we can to encourage a diverse population of wildlife. Our garden is a sanctuary for birds, butterflies, insects, and mammals of all kinds. Hydrangea arborescens is a favorite host plant for Darapsa versicolor, which is also known as the Hydrangea Sphinx Moth. This Sphinx Moth pollinates the flowers on Hydrangea arborescens, then lays eggs on the leaves. 

Darapsa versicolor larva photo from www.bugguide.net

The Eggs develop into larvae which then feed on the leaves of the shrub. If you find a green caterpillar like the one shown here on the leaves of your Annabelle Hydrangea, you can count yourself blessed, because Darapsa versicolor is rarely seen.

Pink Annabelle Hydrangea at Shady Gardens Nursery

A pink-blooming form of Annabelle has been developed, so look for it at your local garden center or online.

(Hydrangea Sphinx Moth Photo credits: http://bugguide.net/node/view/411927, Nolie Schneider 2010 and Floyd Williams 2005.).