By Lois Trigg Chaplin
French tarragon struggles to live in our hot humid climate, but fall, winter and spring are the best seasons to grow it. For best chances at survival, plant in a container with potting soil mixed with a little sand for good drainage. The container allows you to move the plant around chasing afternoon shade in spring and summer, and protection from extreme cold in winter. Mulch with small stones to help the foliage stay dry. In fall, my brown and scraggly tarragon gets a trimming and a shot of liquid fertilizer, so it can renew itself as the weather cools in October.
I always feel like it’s a loss if one misses growing lettuce and arugula in the fall and winter. Bonnie Plants makes it easy by providing transplants that are easy to grow and yield a small fortune’s worth of lettuce fresher and crispier than anything I can buy. All is well until the rabbits munch it or squirrels dig it up. But they can be thwarted, because these leafy greens are small and easy to cover. They are easily protected in a box made of hardware cloth or chicken wire wrapped around a frame fashioned of PVC pipe. You can make it to any manageable size to set over the planting bed, lifting it off or turning it over to access the bed.
Clean Out Bluebird Houses
It was a sad day in my garden the day I buried a baby bluebird. I had noticed the parents no longer visiting the bluebird box and there were only two fledglings in the yard instead of the three we knew were in the nest. That is the day I learned that bluebirds can be victims of a parasitic blowfly. Fortunately, most healthy bluebird young can withstand the bloodsucking blowflies, but a weak fledgling might not. The blowfly may overwinter in the old nesting material. This is why good bluebird boxes are designed to open so one can easily remove the year’s nesting material and clean the box thoroughly. Now is the time to do that. It’s simple, just remove the nest, clean out the inside of the box as best you can with a cloth or brush, and discard the nesting in a sealed plastic bag. The empty bluebird box may now also provide a space for multiple birds to shelter from harsh wind, rain and cold this winter.
Helping the Compost Along
When piling leaves and garden litter on the compost pile, sprinkle some good soil over every 6 inches or so of litter and moisten the area if it’s dry. The soil will supply microbes that help the compost to break down faster. You can buy compost starter, a mix of microbes that speed the composting process, but a couple shovelfuls of healthy soil will work fine, too. For the bacteria to do its work, there must be moisture, so turn the sprinkler on the pile after it’s done, especially if the leaves and garden litter were dry.
Fall is the season for Mexican sage. Gardeners have watched this plant grow since spring, stretching tall and setting buds. Finally, it is in full glory in October as the weather begins to cool down. Its new fall blossoms offer a refreshing touch to a flower bed, as well as much-appreciated late-season nectar and pollen for bees. If you like flowering sage, it is not too late to plant it. Plants in full bloom are often sold in garden centers for an instant pop of seasonal color. Fortunately, Mexican sage is perennial in most of Alabama. Cold can kill the roots in North Alabama, but 3-4 inches of light mulch such as pine straw will protect it. The most likely reason that gardeners lose Mexican sage over the winter is poor soil drainage. It does not tolerate cold, wet feet in winter. Plant in a sunny, well-drained location and watch your plant get bigger and stronger each year.
Don’t Forget the Snapdragons
November is a good time to plant snapdragons for a big show in the spring. Those planted now usually grow bigger and bloom more than any for spring planting. Fertilize with a plant food that contains nitrate fertilizer, as it is the most readily available in cool soil. Plant breeders have developed snapdragons that will continue blooming later into spring. For a fuller plant in the spring, clip back the blooms after they are spent in the fall.