Upcoming Events

Watching the Temperatures Change

Watching the Temperatures Change

I like winter.  Maybe it is because I was born in Michigan where winter comes early and stays late, or it is because I am warm-natured.  I do not know why, but I like winter.  Now that I went out on the limb with my inclination towards winter, let me qualify.  Few of us, myself included, like the single digit temperatures and 20mph winds we had earlier this month.  Most of my Northern friends were also miserable as they endured temperatures in the negative teens and wind chills in the negative thirties, forties, or fifties.  Those conditions are not only miserable; they are deadly.  What I want my Alabama friends to understand is that the miserable times come with the storms, and the pleasant times are in between.

Early in December, we received a freak snowstorm in the State.  Snow fell from the Gulf Coast to the Tennessee line.  At my little cabin in the Talladega woods, I received three or four inches of the early wet stuff.  It was beautiful.  My Buster dog and I had an enjoyable few days as we hiked alone through the mountains.  It was a wet snow, and the flakes were large.  This is typical of early and late season snows.  In Buffalo, NY where I lived in the nineties, this snow would occur in October and April.  This is a dangerous snow.  The weight of the moisture content in the snow broke many limbs out of my large pines, and snapped my ten-foot saplings in two.  On Columbus Day 2005, a snow like this hit Buffalo while the trees still had their colorful leaves attached.  Branches and trees came crashing to the ground; causing Western New York to shut down.  Disaster Relief chainsaw crews from around the nation converged on Buffalo as the city had to dig out of the snow and cut up a hurricane-style tree mess.

Since that December 2017, snow melted, Birmingham has enjoyed the typical winter weather and the fluctuations of mercury within the thermometer.  Many nights we had a couple of extra quilts on our bed only to wake to a cold house wanting for need of a fire.  However, a few nights we opened the windows and enjoyed a cool not cold 50-degree night.  Last week in mid-January, God blessed us with another snow.  Temperatures were colder than the first snow, so this snow was a powder.  Again, the wind was blowing, so that part of the storm smarted, but the snow was so light and dry, I went outside and swept our porch and sidewalks clean.  At the cabin, we ended up with about 1½ to 2” of snow.  Sure, it was an inconvenience for a few days, but everything closed; leave your car parked and enjoy the long weekend.  Think about it, we received the snow on Tuesday and Wednesday, by Saturday, all of the snow was gone and we had highs in the 60s.  Yesterday we hit 72 at the cabin!  Even in Philadelphia, at the NFC Championship game, they had a balmy 47-degree temperature at kickoff.

This is why I like winter the weather changes.  Even in the northern states, the temperature fluctuates.  As we were experiencing the snow of last week, my relatives in Michigan were looking at grass.  As the coldest part of winter, approaches on Groundhog’s Day try not to complain.  Go with the flow.  What is here today will probably be gone tomorrow.  Do not let the sensationalism of television news worry you to a tizzy.  Embrace the change, remember, this summer we will have ‘weeks’ of daytime temperatures in the high 90s with lows in the mid-70s with no change in sight.

Garden Talk is written by Andrew J. Baril of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, C. Beaty Hanna Horticulture & Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  This column includes research-based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities.  Email questions to ajb0012@auburn.edu, or call 205 879-6964. Learn more about what is going on in Jefferson County by visiting the ACES website, www.aces.edu/Jefferson or checking us on Facebook and Twitter.  The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities), is an equal opportunity employer and educator.  Everyone is welcome!

Garden Trends for 2018


Photo Credit: Kerry Stober

By: Kerry Stober

Question: Are there any new ideas or plants that work well in Alabama you would recommend in my garden this year?

Gardening is one of the oldest and most popular hobbies around the world. There are multitudes of ways you can adapt gardening to your tastes and space available, which is what makes it so fun and accessible! After reviewing the predicted gardening trends from several sources, I have compiled a small review of these ideas, plants, and trends that we may see more in Alabama this year.

As far as the 2018 color palette is concerned, purple is predicted to be the most fashionable this year. Thankfully there are hundreds of purple flowering plant varieties available if you want to incorporate it into your garden. Moreover, there are many plants with purple foliage you can utilize to add a pop of color amidst the usual green. Also this year we will see more woodland greens, eggshell blues, redwood browns, and neutral tans; all of which work perfectly for a southern garden. Some newer purple plant options include:

Plant Variety Hardiness Bloom Time
Phlox ‘Running with Scissors’ Zones 4-8 Early Spring
Clematis ‘Chloe’ Zones 4-9 Continual May-Oct.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Cape Cod’ Zones 4-9 Spring through summer
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Lavance Deep Purple’ Zones 5-8 Late spring-Summer
Perovskia antriplicifolia ‘Perovskia Blue Steel’ Zones 4-9 Summer-Late summer
Salvia VIBE ‘Ignition Purple’ Zones 7-11 Spring through summer


Also try planting some of the flowering herb varieties of rosemary, Russian sage, or bee balm for a pop of purple or light blue. Herbs are multi-purpose plants and they go great with the next trending theme!

Another trend continuing from previous years is the “Grow Your Own” movement of homeowners becoming more sustainable by growing their own herbs, vegetables, and fruits. A fun part of growing your own edible plants in the garden is trying new foods you may not be able to buy in the local produce section. Now is a great time to browse seed or plant catalogs in search of “new to you” varieties of vegetables and herbs. Try unusual colors of tomatoes (‘Midnight Snack’ hybrid is a large dark purple) or carrots (‘Purplesnax’ hybrid has purple skin and an orange center), seedless melons (try Mini Piccolo), or a new spicy pepper (try Orange Pepperoncini). You may just find a fresh favorite!

Containers and indoor potted plants are making a huge comeback this year. Novel styles of hanging planters and colorful pots with unusual shapes and textures are very popular. Indoor plants provide several benefits to the homeowner including stress relief, controlling humidity, cleaning air, and promoting better sleep. Containers are also great for patios and seating areas outside. Make a lush and private area outside your home to entertain, creating walls or screens by placing taller potted plants like boxwoods, cannas, dracaena, fountain grass, or elephant ears. Planting for privacy and security is also becoming very popular. Using vines or thorny varieties on property or yard borders can be utilized to prevent trespassing. Also planting these types of vegetation under windows or around vulnerable entry points can be useful. Taller full plantings can provide privacy screens for easily visible windows or outdoor entertaining areas.

When considering using plants for all of the purposes we have discussed, try to keep pollinators in mind. Plants often have a pollinator logo on their label that lets you know that it is a plant which attracts these insects. Fragrant flowers are a great way to create a monarch butterfly waystation, and flowers that have longer bloom seasons are great resources for bees. For monarchs some of the suggested plants include: milkweeds, butterfly weed, zinnias, marigold, cosmos, and goldenrod. For bees you may want to try a regional pollinator seed mix that is specific to the southeast.

I hope these popular gardening trends are easy to incorporate into your landscape or home!

Garden Talk is written by Kerry Stober of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Kerry at KDS0010@aces.edu or call 205-879-6964 x19. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

Garden Talk: Protecting Plants from the Cold

By: Bethany O’Rear

  1. We installed a new landscape early last fall. I absolutely love the interest that it has added to our home. How can we protect our investment from cold damage?
  2. Great question and quite timely, since we are currently experiencing some of the coldest weather that we have seen, and reportedly, more is on the way. Most plants should be fine, but you will need to closely watch any marginal plants that are subject to cold damage. With very cold temperatures, it is impossible for marginally cold tolerant plants to acclimate to these extremes. This is especially true of most sub-tropical plants and half hardy perennials.  If you are a gardener who likes to push the hardiness zone to extremes, you will be saddened this spring when those marginal plants disappear from your garden.  If you are unsure which zone you garden in, follow this link for the USDA hardiness zone map (http://www.usna.usda.gov/Hardzone/index.html ).

The news is better for more cold hardy species of woody plants.  In these plants, cooling temperatures initiate the accumulation of sugars, modification of proteins and changes in cell membrane permeability – all of which increase the plant’s cold hardiness. While most plants require both short days and lower temperatures to develop full cold hardiness, other plants harden only in response to low temperatures, regardless of the day length.

For woody landscape plants, low temperature injury, often called freeze damage, can be caused by intra- or extra-cellular ice formations within the plant. When intra-cellular ice is formed, crystals originate inside plant cells. This type of ice formation would be extremely rare in Alabama’s hardy plants and it is unlikely to occur even during an unusually cold spell.  The other more likely type of freeze damage occurs when extra-cellular ice forms during normal cold winter conditions. This means that water moves out of plant cells as temperatures approach 32°F to prevent freeze damage and then back into cells for hydration when the temperature rises above freezing. This type of freeze damage is not lethal to most woody plant species that have been properly acclimated and are cold hardy to the zone where you live.  Injury can occur, however, if the cells are dehydrated for relatively long periods of time, or subjected to very low temperatures that they cannot tolerate.

For the more cold hardy woody plants, the freezing and subsequent rapid thawing can actually be more damaging than a sustained cold period.  It would be better for the plants to thaw slowly to avoid bark splitting.  Since you have newly planted shrubs or young trees with exposed trunks, you may consider wrapping them before they start to thaw to prevent this rapid thawing action.

Normally we don’t have a problem with root damage but a little extra protection may prove useful should we receive prolonged cold temperatures.  Applying a layer of mulch, 2 to 3 inches deep, will aid in maintaining a more even soil temperature and retaining soil moisture as well. Plants that benefit from this practice include perennials, rock garden plants, strawberries and other shallow-rooted species.

Apply bark products, compost, pine needles, straw, hay, or any one of a number of readily available materials from the local garden center. Also, pine boughs or Christmas tree remains can be propped against and over evergreens to help protect against damage from rapid thawing mentioned earlier.  Place this cover on the southern exposed side of the plant where the sun strikes the tree causing rapid thawing.

Only time will tell how much damage plants have sustained but keep an eye on marginal woody plants this spring because they may be more susceptible to borer and beetle attacks after winter cold injury.  I hope these tips are helpful.  Happy gardening!

Garden Talk is written by Bethany A. O’Rear of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Bethany at Bethany@aces.edu or call 205-879-6964 x15. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

Garden Talk: Edgeworthia and Anemones


Anemones photo, courtesy of wikipedia.com

Paper bush photo,  courtesy of http://www.wilsonbrosgardens.com/Edgeworthia-chrysantha-Paper-Bush.html

By: Sallie Lee

Question:  As winter continues to inhabit January, how about some suggestions for plants in our gardens that will address this dreary time of year?  Of particular interest are early-blooming shrubs and perennials, maybe varieties that are a little out of the ordinary?  Gardening is all about trying new plants as well as cultivating tried and true favorites; in fact one of my new year’s resolutions is to try three new plants in my flower beds and lawn.

My gardening space is a mixture of full sun to mixed sun/shade, only aspect I don’t have is deep shade, if that helps narrow the options.

Answer:  With the range of sun/shade options, you are truly the envy of many gardeners who feel limited with one or the other.

The following suggestions are merely a starting point.  With any experimentation, success isn’t guaranteed, which makes gardening a challenge but carries extra points when it’s successful. Even when the outcome isn’t what we wanted, there’s still a learning process very familiar to gardeners and to some degree expected.

Anemone even sounds like its common name “wind flower”, delicate and ethereal. Tougher than it looks, Anemone is categorized as both perennial and annual, depending on the variety grown although most planted in this area are repeaters (perennials).

Of the perennials, they are typically categorized as spring or fall bloomers. Spring-bloomers (planted in fall) range in height from 6 to 18 inches and most produce pure white flowers, although there are a few purple and pink types in the mix. Fall-bloomers (planted in spring) are much taller, measuring up to 5 feet. The flowers are 3 inches or more in diameter and bloom in shades of pink or white. All anemones need full sun or partial shade and average, well-drained soil. The climate needed depends on the species, but most are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 to 8.

Don’t be alarmed if new fall-blooming transplants or divisions that you planted in spring don’t show new growth right away. It’s not unusual for them to show the first signs of new growth in late spring.

Think carefully about the location of your windflowers before planting. Moving them later is difficult because every small piece of root left in the ground results in new plants. Once the bed is established, it is difficult to get rid of them. For additional information, review sites such as  https://www.longfield-gardens.com/article/All-About-Anemones

While Anemones bloom in early spring or fall, depending on variety, Paper bush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) puts on its subtle but notable display in mid to late winter.  Walking downwind of a group of the shrubs on a chilly January day, the light fragrance emanating from soft yellow flower on branches devoid of leaves tends to grab our attention.

While its ancestry isn’t native to North America but rather of Chinese origin, Paper bush is a well-behaved shrub related to Daphne, another winter-flowering lovely.  In Asia its bark is used to make high quality paper, ergo the common name. Considered a medium sized shrub at best, about 6’ tall and wide, preferring light shade in this part of the state, its roots are happiest in moist, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. It doesn’t take kindly to drought conditions but adding mulch around the roots to help retain moisture and hold down weeds helps keep the plant healthy.

Considered a relatively pest-free plant, it is also low maintenance if properly sited, pruning limited to only those stems that are damaged or growing at an unproductive angle.

While neither of these plants are considered collector’s items, they aren’t seen in our landscapes as often as we’d think considering their appearance and charming deportment. This year, both will be on my plant “bucket list” – what about yours?

Garden Talk is written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Sallie at leesall@auburn.edu or call 205-879-6964 x11. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!

January is National Soup Month!

News Article from Susan Hill

January is the perfect month for soup!  Soup is a great menu item for lunches and dinners.

You can add different condensed soup over rice or noodles to make a quick and easy meal which takes no time at all.  There are so many varieties of soup, everyone is sure to enjoy something. Whether you enjoy the creamy varieties, condensed or chunky, they’ll make your mealtime enjoyable, especially with their low fat, reduced sodium and healthier versions.
Since it is National Soup Month there are some fun facts about soup, which to me was very interesting! Check some of these out.

Soup lovers across America consume more than 10 billion bowls of soup each year. On average, American consumers stock six cans of soup in their pantries at all times. Soup can even be used to refresh leftovers from a previous meal. Two cups of rice, pasta or mashed potatoes and a can of your favorite chunky style soup make a quick and easy dinner that’s ready in minutes and costs under $4.

The three most popular varieties of soups are chicken noodle, cream of mushroom, and tomato.   These varieties are among the top ten in grocery purchases every week.  Many soups are a ‘secret’ ingredient in a favorite recipe.  Some people believe that soup is the perfect weapon in weight loss because it gives a feeling of satiety with fewer calories.

Soup flavors have been inspired by almost every country around the world… From Mexican-style to Italian-style, soup is literally a cultural melting pot!  It is suggested that in the late 1700s, a French king was so enamored with himself that he had his royal chefs create a soup that would allow him to see his own reflection in the bowl. As a result, consommé (clear broth) was born.

Soup is a great, easy and cost-effective way to get a full serving of vegetables.  Soup is also a breakfast food in many cultures. In Japan, the day is started with a bowl of miso soup or fish broth with rice. In France, children traditionally eat leftover homemade soup before going to school. And, in any country, soup can take center-stage in delicious breakfast dishes like Egg Noodle Breakfast or Spinach Mushroom Frittata.

Frank Sinatra always asked for chicken and rice soup to be available to him in his dressing rooms before he went on stage. And, what a great idea that was! There’s nothing like a delicious, soothing bowl of soup to get you ready to do anything – even belting out a few tunes!

Although there is no official origin of the pairing of the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, government-issued cookbooks tell us that World War II U.S. Navy cooks broiled hundreds of “American cheese filling sandwiches” in ship’s kitchens. The tasty combination was economical, easy to make, and because tomato soup is packed with vitamin C, it met government nutrition standards.


Other interesting facts about soups are:

The colors of Campbell’s soup labels, red and white, come from the colors of the Cornell University football team.

In Nebraska, it is illegal for bar owners to sell beer unless they are brewing a pot of soup.

A 12th century physician named Moses Maimonides first prescribed chicken soup as a cold and asthma remedy. More recently, University of Nebraska researcher found that chicken soup may ease the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. So, when you’re fighting off a winter cold, simply enjoy a steaming-hot bowl of chicken noodle soup.

Soup etiquette reigns supreme in New Jersey, with a law in Ocean City, making it illegal to slurp soup.

Now we can see can see why January would be the perfect month for soup!

Cream of Potato Soup

1 ½ cups water

1 cup chopped celery

1 cup chopped onion

2 beef bouillon cubes

1 ½ cups unseasoned mashed potatoes

2 tablespoons corn-oil margarine

2 cups skim milk

½ teaspoon paprika, or to taste

Combine water, celery, and onions in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until mushy, about 30 minutes. Strain mixture (should make about 1 cup liquid). Add bouillon cubes to hot liquid and stir until dissolved. While liquid is still hot, pour it over potatoes in saucepan. Stir. Add the margarine, milk, and paprika. Warm over low heat, stirring constantly.

Makes 4 servings. One serving: 1 cup

One serving contains; 162 calories, 2 mg cholesterol; 548 mg sodium, 19 g carbohydrates, 7 g protein, 6 g fat or 33% of total calories.

Note: To reduce sodium, use 3 teaspoons low-sodium beef bouillon in place of 2 regular bouillon cubes.

The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!