Garden Tips from Garden Mama!

Garden Mama host Nellie Neal

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.