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If I could only grow one rose…china roses

Cramoisi Superieuri nearly always holds it blooms until Christmastime in my Apex, NC garden.  My shrub came from the Antique Rose Emporium and if you haven’t discovered the pleasures of old roses, I suggest you check them out. 

Old roses are tough, pest resistant and smell like the roses my grandmother grew.    They don’t look or last as well as the very popular hybrid teas in a vase, but they look so much more at home in the garden.   And hey–they bloom at Christmas.  I used this photo on some of our holiday cards this year. daffodil

And while the roses are winding down, the bulbs are coming up.  Here’s a photo of Rijnveld’s  Early Sensation Daffodils living up their name by blooming on Christmas Day.    I have dozens of these bulbs planted in my woods, but only two clumps were moved to bloom so early.   They are a nice reminder that southern gardens NEVER sleep. 

Finally another Christmas card photo of my favorite red and green–nandina

Nandina berries and lawn furniture, December 2012, Apex NC.  Happy Holidays, and Happy Gardening to all.


If you hurry, there’s still time to plant some hardy annuals like the pansies, snapdragon, and Dianthus transplants above. 

They’ll bloom though spring rain, sleet, and snow; then peak in late May or early June. 

After that you can toss spent plants on the compost pile and use the space for summer flowers.   

It’s crop rotation for flower gardenersHardy annuals are an easy way to bring more blooms into your southern garden and have more than one season of flowers in your beds.

I grow them from transplant.  These came from the awesome Campbell Road Nursery (off Tryon Road in Cary) for just 10 dollars a flat. 

I also grow hardy annuals from seed.  The larkspur above were sown in the fall. 

These baby Nigella were raked in the garden in January.   As the weather warms, they’ll grow like weeds.   Hardy annuals are EASY, which means more newbie gardeners should them a try.   

Annual poppies, and sweet peas can also be grown this way in triangle gardens.  Any other suggestions.  What hardy annuals would you add to the list?

Lots of shovel action going on in my Apex neighborhood these days–and I’ve done my share of spring planting.  But some of the  best things in my garden right now are the hardy annuals I planted last fall. 

Like these snapdragon–Bought in October at my favorite local plant source, Campbell road nursery, these transplants became very  full and stocky over the winter.  They are at least three times the size of the ones I forgot about, left in the cold frame, and didn’t plant til early March. 

Larkspur blooms coming soon--in front of the old roses

Larkspur is another terrific annual to plant in fall.  I sowed these seeds in October, and I can’t wait for the tall spiky blue blooms that will be coming soon.   It’s one of my favorite flowers and one of the best investments a Southern gardener can make. 

So flip you calendar ahead to September and October and make a note in bold sharpie:  Buy and plant hardy annuals.  Next spring, you’ll be so glad you did.

PS.  Don’t forget the kitchen garden.  We’ve been eating our greens and leeks for about 6 weeks now.  All were set out as transplants last fall and are so much better than what you get in the store.  My purple cabbage is delicious!

No bags to haul or bills to pay.  All the mulch I  need is right in my own backyard.  Here’s how I use  leaves to mulch existing beds and build new ones. 

1) Rake.  Natures’  leaves can mat around plants keeping food and moisture away from roots.  So I rake them out of the beds and into the paths. 

Underneath, you’ll find spring–shoots of emerging daffodils and perennials.  Tempting–but it’s too soon to leave them uncovered and it’s too soon to fertilize.  So go to step two

2) Mow.  I run my husband’s  lawn mower (with bag) over the leaves in  paths.    Make sure to wear eye protection (your sunglasses).  Things fly around a lot.  And I use a dust mask from the hardware store.   It’s a dirty job. 

3) Now dump and spread the leaves back in the beds.  Don’t smother stuff.  Use your rake to toss them around.    

For bed building, I lay down flattened cardboard and dump the ground leaves on top.  It’s a great way to smother great masses of weeds.  Just leave some space around plants.  Never pile mulch against trunks or stems.

Weed-suspressing cardboard is hidden by my homemade leaf mulch--

Benefits of mulching this way: 

Your paths are raked.

Your beds are mulched.

The leaves will break down over time and improve your soil.  Ground up leaves are the “organic matter” the books are always talking about.   Can you believe people haul them to the street!

I love our little patch of North Carolina woods–They give us cooling shade in summer,  lovely colors in fall.  In winter, they cast long,  interesting shadows, and in  spring–there hundreds of blooms  before the trees fully leaf out. 

But planting in the woods can be tricky.  Competition makes it hard.  And not  just  competition for sunlight– In my garden,  tree roots are the bigger problem. 

Mats of tree roots drink up water and soil nutrients--

Here’s how I cope with them and plant shrubs that love living under trees.

1) Dig a 10 dollar hole,  as my daddy used to say.  This is a good rule for any planting–sun or shade.  Make the hole bigger than you think it should be.  And don’t tunnel to China.  Plant roots grow out so wider is more important than deep when you’re digging a hole.  

My assistant, Tralee Ramsey, jumps in to enlarge the planting hole--

She loves to dig as much as I do--

2)A good shovel should hack through roots. If they’re too big for that, you  better find another spot.  Also, avoid planting under mature maples, river birch, beech and hickory trees.  They literally choke out the competition with their thirsty surface roots. 

A good shovel hacks through these roots--If they were much bigger, I'd find a new spot

3) Keep hungry tree roots at bay for a few months by lining the hole with newspaper.  I learned this trick from my favorite shade gardening book, Making the Most of Shade (Hodgson)   By the time the newspaper breaks down, the plant is over transplant shock–the roots are growing  again.

I'm always recycling my N&O in the garden. I also use layers of it under mulch.

4) Set the plant a little  higher than the sides of the hole.  Few plants like wet feet–for many it’s a death sentence– and  your plants will settle a little after planting. 

4) Backfill with good soil.  I often amend the planting soil with  compost or pine bark soil conditioner but all the experts DON’T agree with this step since it discourages roots from breaking out of the hole.   If the native soil looks good enough (not clay) I put it back in. 

5) Tamp the plant down with your  foot to settle it, then water slowly and deeply.  My father used to “mud” his plants in, refilling the hole half way, then filling it water.  Once the water drained, the rest of the soil went in and he watered again. 

Don't skimp on the water--now or later

6)  Don’t forget your plant.  It takes two summers for a shrub to settle in so plan for extra watering.  Funny, how it never rains enough.

A final tip:  If you can’t dig down, go up.  I planted these shrubs under a thirsty willow oak by building a bed out of recycled cardboard, rocks and soil.  The plants have thrived for three years and by the time the cardboard “floor” of the bed decomposes, they should be established enough to make it on their own. 

Planted on cardboard, surrounded by top soil and stones--these shrubs have grown under a big oak for three years

Here are some shrubs and trees I’m planting in the woods this week.

Pink Dogwood “Satomi”, Carolina Siverbell Tree, Burkwood Virburnum, Sparkleberry Holly, and Camellias.   I do love woodland shrubs.

A long-time gardener and a passionate beginner share the dirt on their NC gardens-

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