Garden Tips from Garden Mama!

Garden Mama host Nellie Neal

Beautiful, Fragrant…Fall??

The sweet smell of Eleagnus in bloom grabs me at the kitchen door and wafts across the expanse of the neighbor’s hedge out to the greenhouse. Tiny and cream-colored, the fleshy flowers deliver best on a cool morning. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Eleagnus and too often see this shrub crowded
against a path, creating almost a monthly pruning chore. But at this time of year, the very presence of flowers is grand and moves this durable shrub
to my ‘useful in the right circumstances’ list: to block a view, to define a sharp edge, to grow fast and set up a barrier. This shrub excels and
when it shows out like the one in the photo at left, Eleagnus is elegant. After a cold snap, good ol’ Nandina (shown at right) sheds its modest green
cloak to reveal the red shades I wait for every year. The big buckets of red berries on each branch lie in wait for the birds to devour them in a winter frenzy. But right now they simply dazzle, sitting atop those leaves newly painted with fall colors. The recent early cold snap set all these pleasant developments in motion, pushing the green chlorophyll out of view to nourish the shrub and revealing the reds in all their glory. You can overlook Nandina for months, but now’s her time to shine and she does it particularly well in an unseasonably cold autumn.


Hooray! It’s Time to Tend Perennials
After the current cold snap, expect a return to near
average fall conditions – cool and mostly sunny.
That describes near perfection to work with
perennials. A big part of healthy growth is garden
sanitation and fall is the time to see to perennials.
Old flowers and plant detris left in the garden can –
and do – harbor insects and diseases from season to
season. Weeds compete with desirable plants and
crowded clumps duke it out until they collapse or
stop blooming. Groom the plants now, weed the
bed, and divide perennials if needed. Take
advantage of the cool snap to cut down now-
leafless stems. Plant all your favorite perennials
now in well-drained soil and tuck them in with the
same fresh mulch you apply to established
perennial plants each fall.

Pansies = Persistent Resilience

We plant pansies almost without thinking and count on them for
flowers now and in the spring. Anyway, that’s the press they get
but things can happen to challenge pansies and even stunt them.
Plant pansies at ground level. Sunken pansies and those left
flopping at ground level do not grow well even with reliable care:
water and fertilizer weekly unless it’s freezing, regular grooming
to remove spent flowers and leaves. Fresh transplants can attract
slugs and snails that chew neat round holes and trail slime
everywhere. Work diatomaceous earth into the soil around young
pansies to deter these pests. In rainy weather leaves can look pale
even with regular attention to fertilizer. When that happens,
apply nitrogen to the soil or as a foliar spray, depending on your choice of product. Mine
would be a naturally sourced nitrogen fertilizer such as cottonseed meal – unless company’s
coming within a week. Use a foliar spray fertilizer for fastest greenup.


Sure Signs of Autumn in the South

Not a lot of gardening environments can deliver
the edibles like ours – and fall can be the best
time to grow. This planter shows the versatility of
October with tomatoes ripening and cabbages on
the way. It also shows us one of the challenges of
fall food gardening, tomato leaves that curl
upward with no pest or disease issues present. A
physiological problem, this kind of curl happens
on cool nights in fall and early spring, too.
Curling is exacerbated by thick foliage, crowded
plants, and wet conditions created by rainfall or
excessive overhead watering. Fortunately the
leaves usually unfurl on their own when our
weather continues in common warm week/cool
week pattern. If nighttime temperatures stay in
the mid-40’s, pick the tomatoes and ripen them
in a brown paper bag indoors. And don’t forget
that when the tomatoes finish there will be room for fragrant, flowering sweet peas in that

Trees have Webworms? Grab a pruner – or a broom!
You hardly notice the small white moth with wedged wings, never
see the eggs she lays in your deciduous trees. But when the whitish
webs appear full of hundreds of squirming larvae, fall webworms are
impossible to ignore. Like mistletoe or perennial vines, if the
webworms inhabit more than 20 per cent of a tree its photosynthesis
can be limited and you’ll want to explore pesticide options. Also
fortunately, that threshold is seldom reached. However, unlike
mistletoe and flowering vines, webs are unsightly and relatively easy
to remove. The best course is to cut them out and then destroy the
webs and their occupants but height can be an obstacle. If you have a
tree pruner with an extension that can reach the webs, use it. In
young trees, a broomstick or raked wrapped in cheesecloth gets the
webs out with less pruning that might affect the tree’s development.

Looking Ahead: Order Sweet Pea seeds now to plant in November
Pretty and fragrant, too!
If you’ve never grown sweet peas, put up a trellis
and order some seeds! In Zone 8 we plant these
in November, often as a Thanksgiving Day
distraction from relatives and dirty dishes.
The variety shown here is one of two dozen
available when you use my link to visit Renee’s
Garden. ‘Cupani’s Original’ caught my attention
because of its heat resistance, a relative term that
does not mean it could survive summer around
here! Use this link to Renee’s Garden Seeds and


Changing Seasons
Soon it’ll be time to replant this beautiful container with
snapdragons and pansies for winter. Starting now, it’s time to
recondition your outdoor containers, too. Dig out the annuals like
the angelwing begonia and then cut back the
perennial coral nymph salvia and plant in a garden bed.
Ornamental sweet potato vines do make tubers so let the leaves
dry up and dig out the tubers. Store dry where they will not freeze
in a dark space arranged so the tubers do not touch each other –
essentially, the same way you store caladiums.


My Green Affair
Since I learned the word, green has been my favorite color and it
seems to do its best to keep me cool in hot weather. Shades of
green, leaf shapes and arrangements plus variegation means that
this color’s appeal is endlessly entertaining for gardeners. At right,
the spiky, spotted leaves of Aloe vera belong in every kitchen,
ready for the inevitable burns that come with cooking at home.
Break a leaf and let the juice coat the burn or bug bite. Relief is real and almost immediate!
In the photo below, you’ll see my idea of green’s diverse appeal – brilliant medium green in
the sword-shaped leaves of ginger lily and dark
forest green in the striking, palm-shaped fingers of
palmetto. As a bonus, these 2 plants convey a
strong sense of place – you won’t see them in a
commerical planting like this except in the Deep
South! These 2 photos also well illustrate the
range of growing conditions that we inhabit and
green can be the barometer of a plant’s success or
failure if we but pay attention. Aloe turning pale?
It’s getting too much sun. Are Palmettos bending
just at their tips? They need watering deeply. But
if ginger lily leaves get pale and maybe the lower
leaves turn yellow. In that case, the plants are
using nitrogen and may need fertilizer. But this
late in the season, I’ll let a yellow leaf on a perennial plant take its course – fall is coming!

Summer Garden Drama

Our native yucca is a showstopper but you
don’t want to back into the pointed leaves!
You’ll quickly understand why its
common name is Adam’s Needle and why
it is part of the Agave family of fine
plants. Yucca filamentosa is native to the
southeastern US and is prized for its
architectural form and rugged good looks.
Native Americans used the fiber in ropes
and fabric while the roots yielded shampoo. Adam’s
Needle is easy to grow – just be sure to put it where
you want it since moving it can be difficult. If and
when you need to dig one up, suit yourself well – long
sleeves and pants, gloves, and closed toe shoes. The
clump in this photo sprang up at the edge of my
driveway and has established itself like a lamp post to
illuminate many a summer night.


Tip of the Week: Blue is Cool – ing!

The summer garden should be a place of retreat, to
literally cool your heels at the end of a long day. A
pot full or a wall covered with blue Plumbago may
be an obvious choice but try these 2 in smaller
spaces: Blue Clerodendron (above) is called butterfly
plant for the shape of its flowers. Blue Fescue (right)
is a fine texured perennial grass that my cat loves to
munch. He’s been doing it for years and the plant
doesn’t miss a beat. When you include shades of blue in that garden, the color offers a cooling
effect that can soothe the hottest, most humid afternoon.


GardenMama Summer Workshops for a Better Fall Garden

Food you grow simply tastes better than any you can buy! And with the price of produce going nowhere but Up, it just makes sense to grow some of what you eat. Join me on Saturday, July 13, 2:30-4pm, Cultivation Food Hall at The District in Eastover, Jackson, MS, and we’ll get started. 

First topic:

Going to Pot(s): Kitchen Gardening in Containers

Whether it’s a planter full of herbs, grow boxes and baskets brimming with beans, spinach and lettuces, or fig and dwarf citrus trees in big pots, you can – and should – grow some of your own food. Let GardenMama show you how it’s done with pots and growing systems and a clever cedar  planter you’ll take home. She’ll show you how to make her recipe for economical container growing soil that’s better than any bag you can buy and give you a sample, too. Tickets including workshop supplies are $30 and available at



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Delightful Dahlias

Too often people stop taking care of dahlias when they cut the first flower but there are usually more blooms waiting for you to encourage them.  Mix a fertilizer made for flowering plants in the water every 2 weeks in June and July, keep the plants mulched for better water management and
fewer weeds. This is one situation where I think pine straw or hay works better than bark for an organic mulch. Cut the flowers regularly and deadhead = spent ones to encourage branching and thus more flowers. Fresh cut dahlias will last a week or more if conditioned right after harvest. Commercial preparations are fine, as are homemade recipes. Just be sure to make a slicing, slanted, single cut on the diagonal of each stem and, perhaps, most important, change the vase water daily.





Ode to a Petunia                   


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Some plants turn out to be even better than the hype around them! You might be old enough to remember the ‘Wave’ petunia series, really the first to display consistent heat tolerance and overwhelming ‘bloomability’ – that sweet habit of blooming all the time, all over the plant. Their flowers went on for weeks even in hot weather as long as you provided plenty of water, regular fertilizer doses, and a haircut every month or so to keep the new growth coming. Those qualities plus several other good ones stayed in the foreground of petunia breeding and after another decade or so, the Supertunias began their current reign of popularity. From Proven Winners, the Supertunias reached their height in the Vista series, particularly the delightful ‘Bubblegum’ pink petunias. There are plenty of choices for summer annual flowers and I like all of them – portulaca, moss roses, melampodium, vinca, zinnia – but no matter what else is growing, Bubblegum petunia has been part of my scene for several years. The plant in this photo has been in bloom most of the time for 2 years – yes, I grow it in a container and baby it in winter because it’s so cheerful with so much flower power!



Grow Your Own…Shade!         

When you’re looking for summer cover, vines are an obvious choice: moonvine, morning glory, hyacinth bean, tater vine (shown here), blackeyed susan vine, Chilean potato vine – flower colors and shapes, vine textures and seedpods bold enough to start a conversation. Soak big, hard seeds overnight or for a few hours in warm water to speed sprouting, then open a trench two inches deep in front of the support. Plant thickly and thin to 2-3 inches apart as soon as they’re up. When it comes to soil and fertilizer, annual vines have very basic needs, though few grow underwater or in pure gravel. Once the seedlings are up and thinned, bury a band of garden fertilizer in a line about three inches away from the plants. 

Years ago, I foolishly rented an apartment with a west-facing porch. Even with blinds closed all day, it was a hot box, trapping heat that baked the place. My solution was to hang jute strings from the eaves at two inch intervals. I let them trail on the ground to the terrible soil below, then planted Heavenly Blue Morning Glory seeds. The vines took over the porch in two months, providing much needed respite. Try strings or a swingset frame, set up a trellis or hang up some wire – and keep on growing up!

Garden Lessons: Pink Love and Whimsy

I remember many a pink dress from childhood, and I did not like any of them despite my grandmother’s beautiful tailoring. The color always seemed so wimpy unless it was garish, like hot pink. My opinion did not change when I grew up. I gardened in every color but pink and assured others that they could live without it, too, until I fell hard for ‘Clotilde Soupert’ (shown here) and ’The Fairy’ and a dozen more antique and old garden roses. Because pink is said to calm and also to inspire action, it seems to me a resolute color. Pink has staying power, lingering in view almost as long as white when dusk falls and holding its hue in full sun, too. It works in the simplest of garden designs and brings certain sophistication with it. The result is, to me, a more balanced and colorful view when pink plays its part. Pink cools a hot sunny bed when combined with yellow and red. For example, a planting of golden bells and candelabra tree needs the bold contrast of red salvia in front or Abyssinian banana to the rear, but together the strong colors can almost cancel each other out. Add pink zinnias and cleome to compliment the bright hues and you will immediately create a more pleasing scene. In the same way, pink petunias can stand out from the crowd to lighten the looks of a bed dominated by purple clock vine and orange lion’s ears. I have learned that pink goes with everything in the garden, but I still very rarely wear the color.

Canna Love

Lately I have been thinking about the late great Dave Ingram, his love of canna lilies, and honoring his memory. My collection of varieties and flower colors has grown exponentially since his death almost 3 years ago – it seems everywhere I’ve been, there’s another one he would like! Unless I decide to call this place ‘Chez Canna’, something’s got to give. Here’s what I’ve decided to do: each canna will get his own recycled 3g container accompanied by 2 other plants both perennial and interesting. That’ll keep them contained, simplify their care, and keep it from looking like a canna factory around here. Three ‘monsters’ can ruin the appearance and bloom of canna lilies but you can keep them from destroying these queens of the summer. Earworms will chew huge chunks from the leaves and leaf rollers will twist them and prevent unfurling. Cut down the affected stems to the ground and dust with diatomaceous earth. No bugs? Canna leaves weakened by lack of fertilizer will rip apart, too.

How to Deadhead Roses

Many roses are remontant, that is, they rebloom for months during the growing season – IF you cut off the old flowers as soon as they are spent. After the strong storms and windy days we’ve seen recently, lots of roses open just to quickly go by. Get your clippers and cut some for the vase but deadhead the plants carefully so new flowers can form if they can. Look down the stem behind the spent flower to see the first five-fingered leaflet and cut the stem just above that point to encourage new flower buds to form promptly. It’s ok to fertilize the roses now, too, if you haven’t or if the new growth is pale and looks, well, washed-out.


Timing, Planting, and Spring Fever

Gardeners never seem satisfied with planting time – some think they’re late for the dance and rush tomatoes into cold soil, others never consider the calendar and direct seed lettuce in May. A few insist that everything must be planted right after Easter, whenever that holiday falls each year. As a young horticulturist in Baton Rouge, I soon learned that my customers plant parsley seed on Good Friday – again, on whatever date that happens – and darned if it doesn’t work there! The spring garden season is here to stay for 2019 and my best advice is to take your time, let the soil dry out if it needs to (and most do), and be confident that there are months of good growing ahead. Tomato and pepper plants, zinnias, celosia, okra, gourds of all sorts, periwinkles are among the plants that need late spring’s warm soil and air temperatures to thrive. Be calm and garden on!



High Impact Pots

Focus on planting few large containers to set the mood on your deck or patio this summer! Neutral in hue or colorful, big pots don’t have to be heavy and hard to move around anymore. I like beautiful pottery but there’s a place Bring color and fragrance up close where you can enjoy them and gain their benefits. Remember, pink and blue are soothing and available in cosmos, zinnias, and cleomes while red, whether geraniums or petunias, stops traffic and purple adds romance. I’ll admit that my purple clematis is a very romantic container plant, covered with new growth and flowerbuds as it is in the photo above. My favorite color besides green is orange, the color of welcome and good communication. Not exactly poetic, but a perfect color for a tropical hibiscus as the centerpiece of a large mixed pot. Don’t forget a filler such as ‘Diamond Frost’ euphorbia to lighten up every container’s impact and bridge the space between bolder plants. It’s the white flowered plant in the photo above with fuzzy leaf wandering jew (Tradescantia) and mother of thousands (Kalanchoe).



If your world is coated in yellow dust and every pocket is filled with tissues, you have a good idea what my week has been like. I am here to tell you that no matter how many springs you’ve seen, a pollen-rich couple of days outdoors can lay you to waste. That’s me, from Tuesday to this very moment and it’s frankly amazing that I’m writing at all, given my pollinated condition. Take my advice: wear your pollen mask or a wet bandana to protect your nose while you garden. When you go inside for the day, toss your clothes directly into the washer, take a shower, and wash your hair. You’ll thank me!

Container Gardening Big Tip!

You are growing more plants in pots every year! Welcome to my world where the gardener controls site, soil, and maintenance with less frustration when you employ strategies like smart watering:


  • Headspace is the open area between the top of the soil and the top of the pot. Always pot with ½ to 1 inch of headspace so you can water without splashing.
  • Watering cans and hoses each have their place, so long they include a water breaker. That prevents splashing, waters pots evenly, and does not expose roots.
  • Apply water slowly but surely, steadily until water runs out the drain holes. Continue as you count to 3 and then let the rest run out. In dry weather, refill the headspace.
  • Water leaves often enough to prevent dust buildup – helps knock off insects, too.
  • Do not let pots sit in the water that has run through them.
  • Do water from the bottom occasionally by filling the saucer under mature plants.
  • Reservoir pots simplify the watering process exponentially!

GardenMama’s Best Container Growing Mix Recipe

Start with 1 big bag bark-based or organic material-based potting soil.

Dump all of it into a wheelbarrow & use the empty bag to measure:

§          ½ bag ground bark

§          ½ bag compost (yours or store bought)

§          ¼ bag composted manure if pots will be outdoors all year

§          ¼ bag sharp sand (‘play’ sand is ok)

§          1 cup granular garden fertilizer if potting soil has none

§          1 cup garden lime (not hydrated)

§          Mix all ingredients together well.

§          Store indefinitely in covered plastic can.

Tailor the mix to your needs: add more bark for orchids, more sharp sand for cacti and succulents, more compost for ferns and bog plants, etc.

Ready, Set, Prune!

Everybody talks about pruning, often with a superior attitude to make it sound harder than it is, and that causes prune-o-phobia in too many people. There are good reasons to prune shrubs, including to control and direct growth, remove unproductive or hazardous growth, and create or maintain a topiary and nothing to fear. Just remember: you can always take off more, but you can’t put it back, so prune a bit, step back to look, and prune more. The time to prune evergreen shrubs is now, just before new growth takes off for the year. Start with hand pruners and a lopper or folding saw, and first cut out any dead wood or branches that crisscross the canopy and one of any 2 that rub right against each other. Overall, you can take off up to 1/3 of an evergreen shrub in 1 year. We’ve had some growth starts already, but with the freezing temps forecasted for next week, there’s still time to exercise your right to prune evergreens before spring arrives in earnest.

Daylily Smarts

Daylilies in bloom are my idea of eye candy that’s easy to love and easy to grow, too. But evergreen daylilies are a truly welcome sight on a wet, gray winter day. The magnificent ‘Suburban Nancy Gayle’ is not in bloom today, but those gorgeous strappy leaves are glowing with rain in my front garden. A mixed flowerbed that blooms from spring into summer needs daylilies – a row of tall ones for height where it’s needed, some smaller clumps for knee high color, and at least a few rebloomers like my favorite, ‘Scarlett O’Hara’. Being evergreen is not a limiting factor for daylily choices! Some are entirely deciduous, others lose some leaves each fall and put on a lot more in spring. Grab a bag of composted manure so you’ll have it ready to spread a light blanket around your daylilies when conditions dry out a bit. There is a little fertilizer in composted manure, but its value as an organic matter benefits the soil and thus the plants. Fertilize with a formula made for flowering plants in late March.