Happy January, my gardening buddies! I’m sure the little slice of landscape heaven known as your yard is looking splendid right about now. Splendidly dead, right? Unless, of course, you followed all my advice in my winter interest article and have a spellbinding assortment of colorful evergreens, branches, bark and berries to keep your eyeballs happy until spring. Alrighty then, one can only read but so many articles about “putting your garden to bed” for the winter (snore city). But what does one write about in this ho-hum time of year, you ask? Busting popular garden myths and discussing my biggest pet peeves seemed like a good idea. Where’s my soapbox?
Myth: Redheaded gardeners grow hotter chili peppers. I’m not sure where this one originated, but since I am a redhead, I thought it was cool. I will have to test this one this summer if someone else will volunteer his or her taste buds. Whoever said blondes have more fun lied!
Peeve: Hygeraniums, jupiters and japonicas, oh my! At the shop, we get plant mispronunciations and mystery plant requests all the time and have to be Inspector Clouseau to try to figure out what folks are asking for. Do you want a geranium or a hydrangea (this one is very common!)? Jupiter is next to Saturn in the solar system, but maybe I can help you pick out a nice juniper. Don’t even ask if we have any of them japonica plants, half the shrubs at the shop have this species name; you may be here all day. In other words, bringing in a picture, cutting, leaf or flower of what you are looking for helps a lot, because common names and grandma’s plant nicknames vary too much and can be misleading.
Myth: Water-loving trees such as willows and birches help dry out wet spots. No they don’t, you will simply have a very happy tree! If you have a problem area in your yard, you may need to call a landscaper to correct the drainage, or use it to your advantage and turn it into a bog or rain garden.
Peeve: Recently, we were asked if we sold organic cow manure. Folks, whether the best garden amendment known to man or beast originated from purple-spotted, un-inoculated, free-range cows, or the standard dairy farm or delicious Angus prime rib variety, it is all the same in the end (pun intended)! In today’s world, you can’t get much more organic than this! When I recommended bone meal to a nice lady buying some bulbs, she exclaimed that she refused to use it for fear of Mad Cow Disease (*sigh*). The moral to these stories is that if these things worry you, choose a morally sound hobby less hazardous to your health, such as chess or maybe bungee jumping.
Myth: You should never feed wild birds. I guess the assumption is that if you do, they will not be able to find food on their own anymore. Au contraire! Don’t let the phrase birdbrain fool you. Wild animals are smarter than most people I know. If you forget to fill your feeder, they will move on to greener pastures, and come back when you have filled it again. Some of their native habitats are dwindling due to development, so populations can actually increase where backyard feeders are used. Birdseed is just supplemental food, and this will encourage them to stay and eat their favorite food (bugs), which helps keep the insect population in check. Birds are simply a joy to have around, so become a backyard birder and feed away!
Peeve: Never hack, top, or hat rack a tree! This only places stress on the tree and it contributes to disease and weakness, not to mention downright UGLY! A good example of this is crepe myrtle abuse. These plants come in varieties from 3 feet to 25 feet in every color for every size. If you want a 5-foot crepe myrtle, do not plant a 20-foot variety and trim it constantly. It is sad to see this, especially in the winter when there are no leaves to hide the damage. If a tree is unhealthy, or overgrown for its allotted spot, please hire a professional arborist to trim limbs properly or have the tree removed altogether. Then plant something new in its place if needed. Remember to be careful of where you plant a tree and take into account its size at maturity. Some genius planted a Bradford pear directly underneath the power lines to mark the boundary of my property. The tree will have to come down completely in the next couple of years, or constant power company pruning will ruin it, unfortunately.
Myth: I cannot grow anything in this southern red clay. Here’s another au contraire for you! With a little work in the beginning, most ornamentals will thrive in this soil. Clay is loaded with nutrients and minerals; it is simply heavy and hard to work at times. Amend your beds or planting holes with a little topsoil, cow manure or compost to loosen and for drainage and mulch well. As the plant grows, its roots are eventually going to find their way into the clay anyway and will do just fine. Just water regularly and deeply during times of drought. Remember never to use sand or peat moss for clay soil. Clay + Sand = Concrete! Peat moss holds too much water, bad for amending southern clay (good for sandier soils.)
Myths and peeves aside, gardening should never be pretentious and stuffy. Throw on your old holey clothing and muddy shoes; you are playing in the dirt, after all! It isn’t rocket science, just good old-fashioned common sense and a willingness to make a few mistakes and try again, as well as triumph over bugs and weather. Take advice and design ideas with a grain of salt and plant what you like, not what your neighbors and friends like. It is your garden, so above all, have loads of fun. Just remember the adage, Right Plant, Right Place. Happy gardening!
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