Gardening Tips

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Three Secrets For A Happy, Healthy Lawn

A well-manicured lawn doesn’t just happen by itself; but, it doesn’t need to be backbreaking work, either.  Landscaping pros understand that a little extra effort can produce a beautiful, healthy turf all season.  If you follow these simple tips, you’ll have a thriving yard in no time, without a ton of extra effort.

  • Aerate.  Just like it needs water and nutrients, grass needs air to thrive.  Aeration removes plugs of soil from the lawn, which loosens areas that may have become compacted by heavy use, and lets air get down to the roots.  Whether you use a power machine or a hand tool, keep in mind that an aerator that removes plugs is much more effective than one that just pokes holes, which can actually make soil compaction worse.  Depending on the type of grass in your yard, you’ll want to aerate in spring, early fall, or both.
  • Top Dress.  After you aerate, top dress your lawn by spreading 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch peat moss over the grass with a rake.  The top dressing of peat helps gradually condition the lawn throughout the growing season, strengthening the grass to resist disease and thatch, and reducing the amount of water and fertilizer it needs.  Peat moss absorbs moisture and reduces the leaching of nutrients by holding and releasing them slowly over time.
  • Repair Bare Spots.  Discolored patches on the lawn can ruin the look of your whole yard; but, they’re often easy to fix.  First, loosen the top six inches of soil in the affected area.  Then, work two inches of peat moss into the soil.  Scatter grass seeds on the soil, add fertilizer, and water with a fine spray.  You can sprinkle a thin layer of peat moss over the new growth to add an extra measure of conditioning, and keep the area moist until it germinates.
  • Spring or fall are good times to tackle reseeding; the cooler temperatures help the grass seeds to grow.



It’s about that time again.  Tulips, daffodils, and other spring bulbs are fading, leaving you with messy foliage.  What do you do now?  For successful bulbs next year, follow these pointers.

  • Remove flower heads – Cut off blooms as soon as they fade.  This will prevent the plants from expending energy to develop seeds.  That energy can instead go toward revitalizing the bulbs.
  • Fertilize them – After bulbs bloom, apply a 5-10-5 or similar fertilizer at a rate of 2 to 3 pounds per 100 square feet of bed area.  This will help bulbs produce energy for next year’s growth.  When applying fertilizer, be careful not to get any on the leaves as it may burn them.
  • Let the foliage die back-It’s tempting to cut off dying foliage; but, it’s important not to.  Bulbs collect energy for the following year through their leaves.  Removing leaves early lessens the energy they collect and reduces the bulb’s vigor and size, resulting in fewer flowers next year.  Your best bet is to wait until the foliage yellows, then trim it down to the ground.  Resist the temptation to tie up the foliage.  This deprives leaves of the sunlight needed for revitalization. In the meantime, if you would like to hide the fading foliage, you can interplant annuals and perennials in your bulb bed.  Their emerging leaves will cover the bulb’s dying leaves.


Alabama Wilflowers

Wildflowers are an important part of Alabama gardening. The question is, WHAT IS and WHAT IS NOT a wildflower. Our plan is to help you recognize the WHAT IS a true wildflower or just that weed that comes back each year. There are several great sites on Wildflower in Alabama with information and Photos; armed with all this information this year I’ll not be weeding them. These sites have taken care of that for me. For those of you who would like to do more native gardening there is a company that sales wildflower seeds. Take the tour of these Wildflower Sites; we are sure you will enjoy them as much as we did.


In this throwaway society of ours, we’ve learned to think of many things as being usable only once.  Yet there are a lot of items that serve functions for which they weren’t originally intended.

An old ironing board, especially the kind with adjustable heights, makes a great potting bench.  You can even fold it up for easy storage.

Coffee cans double as handy twine dispensers.  Drop the ball of yarn, twine, or string in the can, cut an X-shaped hole in the center of the plastic lid. Close the lid, and thread the twine through the hole.

The dish ran away with the spoon  but where does that leave the fork?  In your garden, where a simple kitchen fork comes in handy for aerating the soil and digging out weeds in tight places.

Your child or grandchild may no longer enjoy the little red wagon  but that doesn’t mean you can’t.  A wagon comes in handy for transporting gardening tools, heavy rocks, bags of soil, fertilizer, bulbs, and plants.  A lot of “plant places” furnish a little red wagon for you to pull along as you shop.

Fore! An old golf bag makes a terrific caddy for your long-handled garden tools, such as, rakes and shovels.  Your gloves and hand tools fit neatly in the side pockets.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor hail will harm your tools. Just keep them in an old mailbox in your garden. It’s an ideal way to store gloves, a trowel, pruning shears, and other small tools.

Just because your old pillow has lost its fluffiness doesn’t mean you have to put it to sleep.  Use it as a kneeling pad in your home or garden.  To keep it clean and dry, put it in a garbage bag and tape it closed.

Just as your current toothbrush fights cavities, your old toothbrush can fight garden grime. Use it to scrub your hands and fingernails after working in the garden.

To make a simple seed starter, simply cut off the bottom two inches, or so, of a milk jug.  Punch holes in it for drainage.  Fill with potting soil and you’re ready to grow.

You can take a load off of a large pot and spare your back, by filling the bottom with foam packing peanuts.  You’ll need less soil to fill the pot and it won’t weigh so much when you’re finished with your planting.

Gardening the Organic Way

Ecological concern has focused attention on organic gardening.  Certain prudent gardeners have probably utilized organic methods since the very beginning of agriculture. Sir Albert Howard, an English agricultural advisor to the Indian state of Indore, first developed a method of farming which did not include synthetic chemicals; but, relied entirely upon available natural materials.

To begin gardening organically one needs to know the pH or “potential of hydrogen” of the soil to be used.  On a scale of 1 to 14, 1 is acid and 14 is alkaline, with 6.1 to 6.9, or slightly acid, being best for most plants.  To measure the pH of soil one may use a portable, home testing kit or send samples to a commercial soil-testing laboratory, a State Agricultural College, or the County Agricultural Agent.

In native forests and prairies there is a permanent state of soil fertility.  All that is produced by the soil eventually dies, decays, and goes back into the soil as humus.  Man and agriculture disrupt this cycle.  The organic gardener perceives a balance of nature and tries to maintain it in his own gardening.

To be an organic gardener, you will want to use compost  organic matter, usually garden debris, that has been allowed or encouraged to decay.  Compost is useful in improving fertility and texture of planting beds, including lawns, and is an important constituent of greenhouse and potting soils.

Mulching is used by many organic gardeners.  A layer of mulch material is placed around growing plants to moderate soil temperature, to decay and to add fertility, to keep the soil loose and eliminate need for cultivation, to conserve moisture, and to protect ripening fruit.  Some useful materials are: grass clippings, leaves, stones, hulls, shells, sawdust, wood chips, pine bark, and straw.

Novel Skeen, GCA Organic Gardening Chairman


Spanish explorers brought four-o’clocks to Europe during the 16th century.  English gardeners quickly came to adore the “marvel of Peru”, as they were called, because these plants bloomed for most of the day under Britain’s often overcast skies.

That name stuck until American colonists, who planted the leafy flower in open sunny gardens, noticed its blooms reliably appeared when the clock struck 4 :00 p.m.  This makes four-o’clocks the perfect plantings for gardeners who work during the day and enjoy relaxing in their garden in the evening.  Their blooms will unwind you-literally.  The flowers remain twisted in a corkscrew until late afternoon.  As the temperature cools, they slowly uncoil.

Four-o’clocks’ botanical name is Mirabilis jalapa.  Mirabilis means “wonderful” in Latin, and some scientists speculate jalapa  was taken from Xalapa, a city in eastern Mexico.  The one to two inch wide trumpet-shaped flowers of four-o’clocks are the perfect partners for morning glories, since the two species bloom during opposite times of the day.  Plant them together and you’ll have backyard color from dawn until dusk.

Most four-o’clocks produce stems full of nectar-producing blooms, making them a favorite evening stop for hummingbirds, butterflies and nocturnal sphinx moths.  They are easy to grow, their main requirement being plenty of sun.  They’ll turn any ordinary evening into something special; and, you can count on them like clockwork.


There are many tips and tricks to bringing plants into your home.  Most are well-known, such as, light, water, temperature, humidity, and fertilizer requirements.

  1. Light.  Once you have determined the light requirement, place the plant in a location where this need is met.  Rotate weekly to maintain uniform shape.  Small leaves, thin stems, and pale color indicate insufficient light. Very attractive variations of artificial light are available.
  2. Water. Take care not to overwater plants. Use water that is room temperature.  Wet soil thoroughly; and, be sure that the excess can drain out the bottom of the container.
  3. Temperature.  Different plants may require somewhat different temperatures. However; as a general rule, day temperatures should range between 65 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 10 – 15 degrees cooler at night.  Rapid changes in temperature can cause damage to the plant.
  4. Humidity.  The level of moisture can drastically affect plant growth.  A container set on a bed of pebbles in a tray of water is an attractive and effective way to increase humidity around the plant.  The bathroom, with its high humidity when baths are drawn and the damping down from the occasional splashes, is an ideal place for “humidity lovers”, such as, ferns, caster-oil plants, and philodendrons.
  5. Fertilizer.  The amount and frequency of fertilization is based on the type of plant.  But; as a general rule, they may be fertilized every month or so. However, many indoor plant growers have been very successful using a diluted dose of liquid fertilizer with each watering.

Some people are hesitant to use plants indoors. The trick is to choose wisely.  As with outdoor plants, give them the light, water, temperature, humidity, and fertilizer they need and they will flourish.  Placed singly, an indoor container plant plays the same role as a specimen shrub or tree in the outdoors.  A grouping of container plants is comparable to mass outdoor plantings.  Remember the plants’ requirements, colors, and sizes must be considered.  For example, group ‘Lemon Lime’ dracena with its spiky, tri-colored leaves with the bright tones of chartreuse, heart-shaped leaves of ‘Neon’ pothos, and bird’s nest fern with its apple-green, wavy-edged leaves. Voila, you’ve created a terrific trio!

Whether you choose to have one or many house plants, you’ll find the benefits of “Indoor Gardening” are endless, not the least of which are pleasure and enjoyment.

Helen Richards, GCA
Indoor Gardening Chairman


(From History)

      One day toward winter’s end, when you can’t wait any longer for spring, cut some branches of flowering shrubs or trees for forcing.  This means you fool them into thinking spring has arrived, and they bloom indoors.

Be judicious in your cutting.  You’ll still want the parent plant to look good when spring really arrives.  Select branches that should be pruned off anyway. Try to select those  with natural curves so they’ll make an attractive arrangement even when they’re still bare. Cut them about a month before they would normally be leafing out. Give them lots of light and frequent doses of warm water, soon buds swell and tiny leaves open.

Forsythia, pussy willow, apple, cherry, peach, redbud, quince, and spice bush are all good choices for forcing.  Choose shoots with lots of flat buds.

After you’ve cut the branches and brought them inside, quickly place them in a tall can or bucket of deep, warm water.  Leave them in a cool, dark corner for several hours; actually, overnight is better.  Remove any foliage from the base that would be under water.  Then split the ends of thick branches by hitting them with a hammer or cut them vertically an inch or two from the bottom.  This helps the branch take up water and stay fresh.  If you cut the stem shorter to fit your vase and arrangement, slash or hammer the stem again.  Thinner branches can be cut at an angle to do the same job of supplying moisture.

Select a container that’s simple and sturdy.  These early spring beauties are best in informal arrangements and are in harmony with terra-cotta or pottery.  Save your crystal and patterned bowls for later for your more formal arrangements and designs.

Did you know that…..

(From History)

Wildlife views habitat from a horizontal perspective and also for vertical diversity?  There are actually five zones:

    1. underground
    2. ground level, short grasses and low-lying groundcovers
    3. taller grasses, wildflowers and “weeds”
    4. shrubs and vertical vines
    5. trees

Various wildlife species use these different levels to varying degrees.  Some species restrict most of their life activities to one level, while others will use several levels to supply their three basic needs.


Caffeine for Slugs

(Info from The National Gardener)

In the May-June TNG, Flora, the magazine’s resident horticulturist, reported on the success of a 2% caffeine solution in dealing with slugs in the garden. Readers, however, were puzzled. Exactly how does one arrive at a 2% caffeine solution. This is Flora’s response.

A cup of instant coffee contains about 0.05% caffeine, and brewed coffee has even more. So a good strong pot of brewed coffee or an instant pot with double the usual spoonsful would probably be usefully efFective since a 1% solution showed excellent results. A good cup of expresso would almost guarantee success. As one experimenter said, “Research ….has shown that the stimulant is LETHAL to the pests and REPELS THEM AT CONCENTRATIONS LOWER THAN THOSE FOUND IN A CUP OF WATERY AMERICAN COFFEE.” SO if you are determined to KILL them, make a strong solution; if REPELLING is enough, just dump your left over morning coffee on the soil around the infested area.


The New & The Old!

Did you know that for less than $25 you can buy an automatic timer that attaches to your outdoor faucet and will turn on – and off – your hose or sprinkler at whatever time you indicate? Since watering is most effective early in the morning, water the grass or a flowerbed from 4 to 6 a.m. without ever getting out of bed! It’s wonderful. With two timers, you can have two hoses or other watering devices working at the same time.


Bird watching is one of the fastest growing forms of outdoor recreation in the county.

Birds have no teeth to grind their food.  The dirt, sand, pebbles, and grit they eat help grind up their food.  Adding grit to your feeder is helpful.  Crushed egg shells do the same thing as grit; and, in spring have an added benefit:  they provide birds with extra calcium for producing eggs of their own.

Just for Birds

GCA Birds Chairmen, Isabella Head and Margaret Saxton, encourage all clubs to include the study of  birds in their programs; and, to establish bird sanctuaries in their yards, neighborhoods, and communities.  It’s really simple, just supply the things that birds need: food, water, shelter, and nesting.

    1. Food.  There are many berry producing shrubs and plants, such as, holly and mahonia, that provide food and add beauty to the landscape..  Then, there are the nectar plants, such as,  salvia and hosta.   There are many ways to furnish supplemental food.
      Feeders for various seeds and nectar.  You can even decorate a tree with treats for the birds at Christmas-time.  String popcorn and cranberries;  cut an orange in half, scoop out the pulp and fill with seed, wire and hang.
    2. Water.  Water is as essential to birds as food.  They can obtain it from many sources.  A lake or spring-fed creek are natural sources.  Melting snow can be a most welcome source, since in the coldness and freezing of winter may render other sources inaccessible.  If natural sources are not available, a man-made pond with a waterfall is appreciated, as is a birdbath.
    3. Shelter.  Trees, shrubs, and vines, all provide shelter.  If you don’t have trees, these can be added to the landscape.  Some are especially fast growing such as maple, dogwood, and oak.  Old,. fallen trees and low growing shrubs such as hydrangea and acuuba offer birds a speedy get-away.
    4. Nesting.  Hollow trees, provide wonderful nesting places for many bird species, while others may prefer dense shrubs.  Some will use twigs, bits of paper, pieces of yarn, etc. to build their nests.  Some, such as bluebirds and chickadees like the human-furnished boxes, while the purple martin likes the plain, ordinary gourd.

Isabella and Margaret caution against the use of pesticides, citing our friendly birds need our help; and, we need them. Not only are they essential to the balance of nature,  just think of the pleasure we derive from them.


Backyard Questions

If you have gardening questions, we’ll help you find the answer.
Our goal is to help you become a better and more informed Backyard Gardener.
Take a look at our gardening site links, try them out and let us know what you think.
Come back and chat with us anytime.  In a state where gardens grow, God walks.