In the Garden:
Middle South
December, 2009
Regional Report

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You might find some self-sowing annuals, such as this celosia, described as "carefree" or "persistent."

Reading Between the Lines

The early spring gardening magazines will soon arrive, marking, I suppose, the kickoff of the armchair-gardening season. I'm not ready to retire by the fire just yet, however. In my Middle South garden, where the first killing freeze blanketed the landscape on December 4, there are still leaves to rake, annuals to compost, and perennials to cut back.

I usually put aside thoughts of new plants until February or March, or at least until I've had enough time to work the kink out of my back and to get my fingernails clean. This year, however, might be an exception. With an estimated 7 million new gardeners joining the ranks in 2009, I've decided it might be prudent to plan ahead.

When it comes to choosing new plants, for our newbie friends I offer a couple pieces of advice. First, the best gardening magazines and catalogs offer a wealth of information, such as planting and growing tips, bedding schemes, and even pronunciation guides. Second, and more to the point, read carefully between the lines. Carefully worded descriptions sometimes downplay a plant's undesirable traits, or overstate its abilities.

If something is described as "exuberant," it might be an aggressive spreader, perhaps even invasive. Also be cautious if a plant is described as a "vigorous grower," or is said to spread diligently." If you're looking for a ground cover to grow in a difficult area this might, indeed, be the plant you're searching for. Think twice, however, before adding it to a well-prepared garden bed.

Other descriptive words also wave a yellow flag. "Carefree" or "persistent" are sometimes used to describe plants that have a tendency to self-sow. Caught unaware, this characteristic can drive you plumb crazy. On the other hand, self-sowing might be an advantage, especially if unwanted seedlings are easy to pot up in containers or to transplant to other areas of the garden.

Be watchful for positive attributes, too. Plants described as "self-branching" will not have to be pinched back, and those called "self-cleaning" will not require deadheading. If labeled "disease resistant" or "insect resistant," they are less likely to introduce problems to other plants and should remain healthy without the application of chemical controls. Most importantly, use your common sense. If something looks too good to be true, it probably is.


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